Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park
introduced readers to the once improbable notion that, thanks to advances in genetic science, dinosaurs could be brought back from the grave. Richard Stone's Mammoth
offers a kindred scenario: the establishment of a "Pleistocene Park," in which long-extinct creatures like the mammoth, saber-toothed tiger, and woolly rhino could be resurrected and given sanctuary.
This is not a science-fiction vision, we learn from science journalist Stone's absorbing journey into recent prehistory. Already, scientists from Russia, Canada, the United States, and other nations are studying the possibility of restoring a stretch of northern Siberia to its Pleistocene condition, thereby creating what they call a "mammoth steppe" populated by bison, Yakutian horses, and elephants--and one day, perhaps, creatures such as the woolly mammoth, genetically "summoned from the world of the dead." The materials are readily available, Stone writes, in the form of DNA-bearing "muscles and ligaments and fat" found in mammoths now buried in arctic permafrost. Whether those remnants can be made to bring back to life what Siberians call the "rat beneath the ice" is another question, but it's one that many scholars are busily exploring.
While looking into what he calls a "watershed in efforts to study lost ecosystems," Stone provides a lively natural history of the mammoth and evaluates conflicting theories on its extinction. His book makes for a memorable journey into unknown scientific territory--and a glimpse at a possible future that is surpassing strange. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
In March 2000, 10 million Discovery Channel viewers watched scientists airlift a 23-ton chunk of Siberian permafrost containing a still-frozen woolly mammoth carcass. Stone, Science magazine's European news editor, describes the banal events preceding the extraordinary excavation: a young boy sees a tusk protruding from the ground; his father and uncle unearth and sell the tusk to an arctic explorer, whose excavation plans conflict with the local Dolgan people's reverence for the earth; the red tape-tangled Russian government cooperates. Stone interviews the top mammoth experts and documents the most significant excavations of the past two centuries. These once abundant "great shaggy beasts," cousins of modern Asian and African elephants, suddenly went extinct at the end of the Great Ice Age some 11,000 years ago. Three well-balanced chapters explore the primary, and often conflicting, theories on mammoth extinction: shifting weather patterns caused by climate change, overhunting by humans and a "hyperdisease" passed from humans to mammoths. Certain scientists, Stone says, not only want to understand the mammoth's disappearance they also hope to bring the beast back to life. He recounts the pioneering, controversial efforts of some Japanese scientists, who hope to recover enough well-preserved tissue to create either an elephant-mammoth hybrid or a mammoth clone. Stone professes his own belief that, someday, "woolly mammoths will once again walk the earth." Exploring the environmental ramifications of bringing extinct animals back to life, and invoking Jurassic Park, Stone describes an ambitious plan to restore the prehistoric mammoth steppe habitat in Siberia. Although sometimes digressive and overly detailed, his account offers a provocative look at the world of today's mammoth hunters.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.