With the spread of radiocarbon analysis, it became possible to clarify the age of ancient finds, which were previously dated only by morphological characteristics. So, paleontologists of the TSU Faculty of Geology and Geography found out that the ancient elephant found in the Tomsk Region is 200,000 years younger than expected. This radically changes the understanding of the fauna and processes that took place several thousand years ago. The research results were published in the international journal Radiocarbon of the University of Cambridge (Great Britain).
In the 20th century, a stable scientific concept has developed that over the past 2.5 million years, elephants have evolved towards a gradual decrease in the thickness of the enamel and an increase in the number of plates in their teeth. This was considered an adaptation to the gradual expansion of open landscapes and climate change in the direction of its aridization - a decrease in the degree of moisture in the territories. If the enamel is thick, then the elephant is ancient, if the enamel is thin, then the elephant is very young. But in the last 5-7 years, the scientific world has begun to doubt old concepts due to the widespread use of radiocarbon analysis with accelerator mass spectrometry. It helps to use a small amount of material for research (2-3 grams), which preserves the sample and makes it possible to obtain an accurate geological age.
Accelerator mass spectrometry is used to perform a supersensitive and accurate analysis of the content of rare long-lived isotopes, in particular, radiocarbon C-14. Measurement of its concentration is used for radiocarbon dating in archeology and geology, and also finds application in ecology, forensic science, and biomedical research.
At the initiative of TSU paleontologists, using this method, the skull of an elephant, found during the construction of a building in the city of Asino, in the middle of the last century, was published. Now it is stored in the Tomsk Regional Museum. According to morphological features, it is believed that such elephants lived on the territory of the Tomsk Region about 300,000 years ago. However, radiocarbon dating done in Great Britain showed that its true age is 42,000 years.
- When I received this date, I was surprised and wrote to the laboratory, they decided to double-check and did a second analysis. The result was the same with a difference of 200-300 years. This suggests that the analysis was performed correctly, says Andrey Shpansky, professor of the Department of Paleontology and Historical Geology, TSU Faculty of Geology and Geography. - Now there is a tendency to doubt. Almost all science is based on curiosity in general, where there are two approaches: to do what has not yet been done and to doubt what has already been done. So I doubted the antiquity of this elephant, decided to double-check it, and got such an unexpected result.
This rechecking shows that those species that were considered ancient turned out to be quite young, surviving to the late Paleolithic man. With the appearance of such results, the question arises about the ideas that were in the 20th century and those new concepts that are being formed now. This applies to both the interpretation of the diversity of the ancient animal world and the assessment of the extinction of some animal species.
In the picture on the left, the thickness of the enamel of the tooth of an elephant from Asino, and on the right is an ordinary mammoth, who lived about 32,000 years ago. In the first, the plates are thick and sparse, and in the second, they are thin and frequent, while the age is approximately the same. Moreover, the mammoth was found near the village of Sergeevo, and the elephant was found near Asino. These two settlements are located on opposite banks of the Chulym River. The age difference between these two finds is 10,000 years, during which time such evolutionary changes cannot occur. Therefore, it is likely that both of these species coexisted together, which raises several new questions.
First of all, these results are important for geologists, for geological surveying, and for assessing the physical and geographical conditions of the natural environment. They significantly expand the species diversity of the fauna that lived with our ancestors. If earlier it was believed that the unicorn - Elasmotherium - died out before the appearance of a political person in Siberia, now the age of the remains of 30,000 - 45,000 years from different places shows another. This also applies to the forest rhinoceros and the thick enamel elephant, which radically changes the idea of the world around that time. This means that the conditions for the existence of this fauna were more complicated than they were previously imagined.
Our perceptions are changing, including the catastrophic approach that has existed for a long time. In the mass consciousness, it is believed that the ice age ended 10,000 years ago, and everyone died out. But after dating the remains of different species, it is revealed that their extinction did not occur simultaneously, and it began long before this milestone. On the territory of the flat part of Western Siberia, the cave hyena and the small cave bear became extinct about 40,000 years ago, in Altai they existed longer, as there were suitable conditions for shelters. Then the cave lion disappeared, and the distribution of horses and bison decreased. New data is now complementing old concepts that are becoming more complex, but also more logical.
This is important in terms of assessing global and regional environmental changes. Humanity is observing them now, but 10,000-12,000 years ago, approximately the same thing happened. This period is considered a global ecological crisis, in which a person was just as affected as a mammoth. Therefore, to assess what is happening now, you need to understand what was happening then: what were the global ecological processes, in what sequence, in what relationship, at what pace, what they led to.
– We observe that, for example, the north is warming up faster than the south. So, in the south of Western Siberia, the average annual temperature has practically not changed, but the north has warmed by about 2 degrees. The same observations are given based on the so-called paleographic data for a period of ten thousand years ago. It turns out that something new is not happening, the mechanisms are the same, and we can make analogies and comparisons to understand and, on occasion, react to it, - explains Andrey Shpansky.