The whoosh of a sled pulled by reindeer sliced through the stillness of a snowy plain in Siberia. It was May. The tundra was still frozen, but in a few weeks it would begin to thaw. Yuri Khudi and his sons glided along the bank of the Yuribey River. They were taking advantage of the good weather to do some hunting. Perhaps they would spot a game bird or other small animal that would add some variety to a diet of fish and occasional reindeer meat eaten by the Nenets people, who have herded reindeer in Siberia for more than 800 years. The last thing Yuri expected on this outing was that he would make an important scientific discovery.
From a distance, it looked like a dead reindeer lying on a sandbar along the river channel. As Yuri drew closer, however, he thought it looked more like a baby elephant. How could that be? The nearest elephants lived thousands of miles away.
As Yuri and his sons stood around the little body lying on the sandbar, they were shocked by what they had found: a perfectly preserved baby woolly mammoth. It was frozen solid.
These animals disappeared from this part of the world about 11,000 years ago, but mammoth bones and tusks are a relatively common find in Siberia. It’s so cold in this Arctic region of Russia that the frozen soil, called permafrost, has acted as a giant freezer, preserving the carcasses of many animals that lived there long ago. As the top layer of permafrost begins to thaw in the spring, the bony remains of mammoths often appear as if they have burst from the frozen ground. But Yuri and his sons had never seen anything like this before—a baby woolly mammoth with all of its flesh in place. It looked like it could have died yesterday. They didn’t dare touch it.
Excerpted from Baby Mammoth Mummy: Frozen in Time by Christopher Sloan. Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Sloan. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic Children's Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.