Raising the Mammoth
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A scientist wants to recover some mammoth DNA to clone a live mammoth. So he finds a buried mammoth in the vast, rock hard permafrost of Siberia, digs it out in the middle of a blizzard and flies it home. Of course he needed a little help. So he befriended an arctic nomad who knows ever rill, rock, pond and stream in the entire region. As background to the quest, National Geographic relates the migratory history of the mammoth family. - Written by David Foss
- Scientist biographies
- Mammoth fact-file
- A conversation with French explorer Bernard Buigues
- Mammoth timeline
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A few examples will prove my point. The first concerns the difficulty in removing the block of permafrost that encased the mammoth. It is hard to believe that the scientists involved would have left to chance the matter of whether or not the block was too large to be lifted by the helicopter at hand, as was portrayed. Surely calculations giving them some reasonable hope of success were in hand or some other method of removal would have been pursued, but the last-minute suspense was played to the hilt like a Bruce Willis thriller.
At one point we are told that the Siberian Woolly Mammoth stood twice the height of a man and weighed as much as 10 elephants. Almost immediately following we are told that the Columbian Mammoth, prospering in the milder climates of North America, was the largest of mammoth species and stood twice the height of a man and weighed as much as 10 elephants. Which is true? How could the largest of the mammoth species be the same size and weight as a lesser member? And why were we repeatedly treated to truly substandard animations of mammoths that surely did nothing to "bring them to life"?
Most bothersome to me were the glossing of various significant mammoth theories--mention was made that Man may have played a part in the extinction of the mammoth, but there was no discussion of how. The documentary implied that Early man, hunting with spears in groups and picking off an occasional weakened mammoth would cause an extinction, but surely this isn't the case. (In fact, modern research shows rabbit to be the most common meat in early man's diet.) But the hunting of entire herds, through burning plains and driving animals over cliffs, is a known tactic that could have lead to an ultimate devastation. This strategy is never mentioned or shown, but instead we are treated to repeated pictures of a single adult mammoth killed by one or two brave hunters with spears.
But what I regret most of all is that the documentary closed without showing us any more of the mammoth than a block of permafrost with tusks (the tusks had been removed originally but were put back in place, sticking out of the block like some Cubist elephant; we are told this was out of respect for the creature but I have to believe production values played an equal part) and a patch of reddish-brown hair the size of a throw rug. Presumably the production deadline closed before the Mammoth was removed, but I was left feeling only slightly more satisfied than when Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone's "secret" vault and found only an empty glass bottle and a few scraps of trash.
I am a big fan of the Discovery Channel shows and usually enjoy most of them. I am NOT your average short attention span viewer who expected a Hollywood action thriller (I am an avid and interested lifelong scientist with a specialty in biology).
And yet, I still do not recommend this programme, because it was too much filler and not enough meat (literally). They stretched about a half hour of information and "non-footage" footage into a two hour show with no pay off in the end.
Here is a 30 second synopsis of the show... (SPOILER ALERT)
Watch Russian workmen and scientists camping on the tundra and slowly digging a big, brown, rectangular block of ice out of the permafrost. Then watch same big, brown, rectangular block of ice helicoptered away. And that's it.
You should know that it is only a partial mammoth (the head was eaten by predators). You never really get to see the partial mammoth, just some tufts of hair. You never get any of the test results (blood, DNA, hair sampling, stomach contents, etc.). Even the tusks that you see in the previews were already removed and just re-inserted into the block of ice for dramatic effect. This show is unnecessarily long with no satisfying payoff at the end (like the similar Discovery Channel Ice Man programme which was far superior and gave us satisfying and fascinating images, facts, test results, and hypotheses about the Ice Man).
Also (guessing from the reviews) you may not be aware, despite the monumental "historic event" promos for this show, that this is NOT the first frozen mammoth found, nor the best preserved, nor the most complete, nor even the largest. Frozen mammoths and mammoth remains have been found around the world for centuries now, and they have been studied for stomach contents, DNA, blood and parasites, etc.
For me, the most interesting thing about this Raising the Mammoth show was the showing of strange prehistoric plants under the feet of the mammoth, and the reconstruction of the bones of another mammoth elsewhere.
I would suggest just watching a repeat of it on Discovery Channel before spending money on your own DVD copy of it. It's repeat viewability factor is a 1 out of 4 (and that's being kind).
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Raising The Mammoth is an interesting story showing how difficult it was to retrieve the...Read more