Evidence for a human presence inside the Arctic Circle 15,000 years earlier than previously believed
In 2012, archaeologists recovered the remains of a woolly mammoth from frozen sediment on a coastal bluff on the eastern shore of Yenisei Bay, 1.8 km (1.1 miles) north of the Sopochnaya Karga weather station, at 71°54′19.2″N 82°4′23.5″E. The mammoth had clearly been killed by humans, and radiocarbon dating has established that the remains are 45,000 years old.
Previously, the earliest evidence for a human presence inside the Arctic Circle is the Yana Rhinoceros Horn site on the Lower Yana River at 71°N. Artefacts recovered at this site include spear shafts made from rhinoceros and mammoth horn, and a variety of stone tools. The site dates to around 30,000 years ago.
However, the Sopochnaya Karga evidence suggests that humans had mastered the challenging conditions of the Arctic well before this date. Damage and injuries to the mammoth’s ribs, shoulder blades, tusks and lower jawbone were consistent with it having been attacked and killed with thrusting spears and light projectile weapons, and subsequently butchered.
The hunters are assumed to be modern humans, though in the absence of fossil evidence this cannot be confirmed. There is fossil and ancient DNA evidence confirming that modern humans were at Ust’-Ishim in western Siberia 45,000 years ago, but this site lies well to the south at 57°N.
Pitulko, V. et al., Early human presence in the Arctic: Evidence from 45,000-year-old mammoth remains. Science 351 (6270), 260-263 (2016).