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Scientists reconstruct African savannah in Western Siberia

November 12, 2014, 9:26 UTC+3 YEKATERINBURG
Climate reconstruction works took three years, researchers managed to recover big collections of fossil mammals, plants and insects along the banks of the River Irtysh
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Ancient cave paintings in Siberia

Ancient cave paintings in Siberia

© ITAR-TASS

YEKATERINBURG, November 11. /TASS/. Russian scientists have reconstructed climate conditions, vegetation and fauna of Western Siberia of 60,000 years ago to see that the territory back then was a bizarre combination of African savannah and Siberian tundra.

“It is next to impossible to find any parallels to match the natural environment of that distant past with any of the present-day ecosystems,” Pavel Kosintsev, the paleoecology laboratory head at the Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Urals Branch, told TASS on Tuesday. “It was something resembling both the present-day African savannah and Yakutia’s forest tundra. A kind of hybrid not found in the modern nature.”

Thus, according to scientists, the period when Homo Sapience reached Western Siberia (from 60,000 to 30,000 years ago) could boast rather favourable climatic conditions. The climate was warm, despite the fact that it was Late Pleistocene Ice Age.

Ecosystems of that period were characterized by a very high biological productivity, Kosintsev said. The territory was covered with grass-like vegetation close to that typical of present-day steppes, with lots of various cereals. There were few trees. The land was inhabited by various animals — rodents, horses, bison, rhinoceroses, mammoths, saiga antelopes, reindeers, musk-oxen, hairs. Elasmotheriidae (a kind of fossil rhinoceros) skeleton fragments were found that far to the north for the first time. Predators inhabiting this land included cave lions, brown bears, wolves, gluttons and polar foxes.

“It looks like dominating species were the horse and the reindeer — their bones were found in abundance. The third most widespread species was obviously the bison. The wooly rhinoceros population was also rather big,” Kosintsev noted.

Climate reconstruction works took three years, when scientists recovered fossil animals, birds, fishes, insects and plants along the banks of the River Irtysh. Ultimately, they have formed Russia’s biggest paleontological collections of about 10,000 fossil bones.

“We have amassed very big collections of fossil mammals, plants and insects. After our specialists studied these finds, they were able to outline general characteristics of their habitats,” Kosintsen said.

The study was conducted by an international team that has sequenced the oldest human genome extracted from a fossil human bone found in Western Siberia. Results of mapping the complete genome of the Ust-Ishim man, as the fossil was dubbed, were published in late October.

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