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11:50 | Jul 16 | 2014

Scientists find mother's milk in baby mammoth's stomach

 American, French and Russian scientists have conducted the first computed tomography of Luba and Khroma, the youngest and best-preserved mammoths.

They have obtained data on their skeletal development, moreover the researchers have figured out how they died. The slices computed tomography (CT) will be presented in the new issue of Journal of Paleontology; also the University of Michigan site provides brief results.

Lyuba was found by reindeer herders in 2007 on the banks of the river Yuribey on the Yamal Peninsula. Her body came to scientists almost intact (only the tail was eaten by dogs). Khroma (it is a "boy") was found in 2008 on the banks of the river of the same name in Yakutia - crows and foxes ate his trunk and neck. The both baby mammoths are approximately 40,000 years old. Researchers call them mummies - so well preserved are their soft tissue (muscles, fat, internal organs, skin). Khroma even has clotted blood in vessels and undigested milk in the stomach.

Since Lyuba and Khroma endured the time so well, the scientists did not dare to cut them and take tissue samples for analysis. They found help in computed tomography: This method allows to obtain images of anatomical features of the body without damaging it. Lyuba was scanned in the U.S. and Japan with the help of medical imaging - but the mammoth was too big and could not fit entirely into the device. The scientists obtained the full three-dimensional picture of the body only in 2010, at the Ford plant laboratory using a special scanner, designed to search for hidden defects in the automobile transmission. Khroma was scanned in the French hospital. The University of Michigan scientists made CT slices opf the animal teeth. It showed that Lyuba died at the age of 30-35 days, and Khroma - 52-57 days (both were born in spring).

The both baby mammoth died, having choked with silt. The CT slices showed a dense mass of fine-grained sediments blocking the airways in the trunk. Similar sediments are present in Lyuba's throat and bronchi, but not inside the lungs: it proves that Lyuba drowned in water (as they assumed before) and gasped, inhaling the liquid mud. It might have happened in the swamp, as the mammoth airway contain vivianite crystals - water iron phosphate, which is usually formed in the oxygen-poor environments, such as at the bottom of lakes and marshes.

As for Khroma, before his death the mammoth was not far from his mother, which is evidenced by undigested milk in his stomach. Probably the river (or lake) bank  collapsed and he fell into the water. This is evidenced by his broken spine and dirt in his airways.