Skip to main content Accessibility help

Another perspective on the age and origin of the Berelyokh mammoth site (northeast Siberia)

  • Anatoly V. Lozhkin (a1) and Patricia M. Anderson (a2)


The Berelyokh site includes an exceptional bone horizon consisting of 8431 remains of Mammuthus primigenius. Previous investigations, spanning ~40 years, concluded that the deaths and bone concentration were caused by spring flooding, possibly related to wetter Bølling climates. We review work from these studies with emphasis on under-reported palynological data to provide more detail on paleoenvironmental reconstructions and an alternative interpretation for the age and origin of the bone bed. Palynological results suggest the horizon formed under cool conditions of the last glacial maximum, rather than during a Bølling-type oscillation. Presence of permafrost features and associated tundra pollen taxa in the Berelyokh sections suggest that thermokarst processes, unrelated to climate change, could account for the formation of the bone horizon. The penetration of surface waters into frozen sediments of a high floodplain terrace resulted in the formation of hidden thaw sinks. As thaw continued, the pits expanded with surface soils supported by a viscous water-sediment mixture. The weakened surface gave way under the weight of the mammoths, with the hillside collapsing either due to the animals’ struggles or destabilization related to the thaw sinks. This scenario highlights the hazards of thermokarst terrain for present and future populations of northern animals.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author at: Earth and Space Sciences and Quaternary Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA. E-mail address: (P.M. Anderson).


Hide All
Anderson, P.M., Lozhkin, A.V., 2001. The stage 3 interstadial complex (Karginski/middle Wisconsinan interval) of Beringia: variations in paleoenvironments and implications for paleoclimatic interpretations. Quaternary Science Reviews 20, 93125.
Anderson, P.M., Lozhkin, A.V., 2002. Palynological and radiocarbon data from late Quaternary deposits of Northeast Siberia. In Simakov, K.V. (Ed.), Late Quaternary Vegetation and Climate of Siberia and the Russian Far East (Palynological and Radiocarbon Database), pp. 2734. Northeast Science Center Far East Branch Russian Academy of Sciences and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Paleoclimatology Program, Magadan, Russia.
Anderson, P.M., Lozhkin, A.V., 2015. Late Quaternary vegetation of Chukotka (Northeast Russia), implications for Glacial and Holocene environments of Beringia. Quaternary Science Reviews 107, 112128.
Anderson, P.M., Lozhkin, A.V., Belaya, B.V., Glushkova, O.Yu., Brubaker, L.B., 1997. A lacustrine pollen record from near altitudinal forest limit, upper Kolyma region, northeastern Siberia. The Holocene 7, 331335.
Anderson, P.M., Lozhkin, A.V., Brubaker, L.B., 2002. Implications of a 24,000-yr palynological record for a Younger Dryas cooling and for boreal forest development in Northeastern Siberia. Quaternary Research 57, 325333.
Arslanov, K.A., Vereschagin, N.K., Lyadov, V.V., Ukraintseva, V.V., 1980. On the chronology of the Karginsky interglacial, and on the reconstruction of Siberian landscapes based on the studies of mammoth corpses. In: Ivanova, I.K., Kind, N.V. (Eds.), Geochronology of the Quaternary Period. [In Russian.] Nauka Publishing House, Moscow, pp. 208212.
Bartlein, P.J., Anderson, P.M., Edwards, M.E., McDowell, P.F., 1991. A framework for interpreting paleoclimatic variations in eastern Beringia. Quaternary International 10–12, 7383.
Billings, W.D., Peterson, K.M., 1980. Vegetation change and ice-wedge polygons through the thaw-lake cycle in arctic Alaska. Arctic and Alpine Research 12, 413432.
Boeskorov, G.G., 2013. The natural monument “mammoth cemetery Berelyekh.”. [In Russian.] Bulletin of Samara Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Vol. 3–2, 806809.
Binney, H., Macias-Fauria, M., Edwards, M., Anderson, P., Lozhkin, A., Kaplan, J., Nield, J., et al., 2017. Vegetation of Eurasia from the last glacial maximum to present: key biogeographic patterns. Quaternary Science Reviews 157, 8097.
Edwards, M., Grosse, G., Jones, B.M., McDowell, P., 2016. The evolution of a thermokarst-lake landscape: Late Quaternary permafrost degradation and stabilization in interior Alaska. Sedimentary Geology 340, 314.
Edwards, M.E., Brubaker, L.B., Anderson, P.M., Lozhkin, A.V., 2005. Functionally novel biomes: a response to past warming in Beringia. Ecology 86, 16961703.
Faegri, K., Iversen, J., 1975. Textbook of Pollen Analysis. Hafner Press, New York.
Gladkova, A.N., Grichuk, V.P., Zaklinskaya, E.D., Sauer, V.V., Pokrovskaya, I.M., Radzevich, N.D., Samoilovich, S.R., Sedova, M.A., Stelmak, N.K., 1950. Pollen Analysis. [In Russian.] State Publishing House of Geological Literature, Moscow.
Grichuk, V.P., Zaklinskaya, E.D., 1948. Analysis of Fossil Pollen and Spores and Its Application in Paleogeography. [In Russian.] State Publishing House of Geographical Literature, Moscow.
Grigoriev, N.F., 1957. Finds of mammoths: overview of the materials received by the editorial board. [In Russian.] Prioda 5, 104106.
Guthrie, R.D., 1990. Frozen Fauna of the 657 Mammoth Steppe: The Story of Blue Babe. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Harington, C.R., 2011. Pleistocene vertebrates of the Yukon Territory. Quaternary Science Reviews 30, 23412354.
Harris, S.A., French, H.M., Heginbottom, J.A., Johnston, G.H., Ladanyi, B., Sego, D.C., van Everdingen, R.O., 1988. Glossary of Permafrost and Related Ground-Ice Terms. Permafrost Subcommittee, Associate Committee on Geotechnical Research, Technical Memorandum No. 192. National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa.
Haynes, G., 1991. Mammoths, Mastodonts, and Elephants: Biology, Behavior, and the Fossil Record. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Higham, T.F.G., Jacobi, R.M., Ramsey, C.B., 2006. AMS radiocarbon dating of ancient bone using ultrafiltration. Radiocarbon 48, 179195.
Hopkins, D.M., 1949. Thaw lake and thaw sinks in the Imuruk Lake area, Seward Peninsula, Alaska. Journal of Geology 57, 119131.
Hopkins, D.M., 1982. Aspects of the paleogeography of Beringia during the late Pleistocene. In: Hopkins, D.M., Matthews, J.V., Jr., Schweger, C.E., Young, S.B. (Eds.), Paleoecology of Beringia. Academic Press, New York, pp. 328.
Karavaev, M.N., 1958. The Synopsis of the Flora of Yakutia. [In Russian.] Izdatel’stbo USSR Akademii Nauk, Moscow.
Kartashov, I.P., 1966. Terrasouval and related unconsolidated deposits and placers. [In Russian.] Report USSR Academy of Sciences 166, 424426.
Kokorowski, H.D., Anderson, P.M., Mock, C.J., Lozhkin, A.V., 2008. A re-evaluation and spatial analysis of evidence for a Younger Dryas climatic reversal in Beringia. Quaternary Science Reviews 27, 17101722.
Komarov, V.L. (Ed.), 1930. Proceedings of the Commission for the Study of the Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, Volume XV: Lena-Kolyma Expedition 1909 [In Russian.] Publishing House of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Leningrad.
Kozhevnikov, Yu.P., 1981. Ecology-floristics in middle part of the basin of the Anadyr River. In: Mazurenko, M.T. (Ed.), Biology of Plants and Flora of Northern Far East. [In Russian.] Institute of Biological Problems of the North Far Eastern Branch United Soviet Socialist Republics Academy of Sciences, Vladivostok, pp. 6578.
Kremenetski, C.V., Sulerzhitsky, L.D., Hantemirov, R., 1998. Holocene history of the northern range of some trees and shrubs in Russia. Arctic and Alpine Research 30, 317333.
Kuzmina, S.A., Sher, A.V., Edwards, M.E., Haile, J., Yan, E.V., Kotov, A.N., Willerslev, E., 2011. The late Pleistocene environment of the Eastern West Beringia based on the principal section of the Main River, Chukotka. Quaternary Science Reviews 30, 20912106.
Lavrov, A.V., Sulerzhitsky, L.D., 1992. Mammoths: their period of existence as evidenced by radiocarbon dates. In: Sukachev, V.N. (Ed.), Age-Old Dynamics of Biogeocenoses. [In Russian.] Nauka Publishing House, Moscow, pp. 4651.
Lavrushin, Yu.A., Bessudov, A.N., Spiridonova, E.A., Kuralenko, N.P., Nedumov, R.I., Kholmovoy, G.V., 2015. Late Paleolithic Sedimentological-Paleozoological catastrophes in Eastern Europe: Essentials of a Concept of Appearance of Mammoth “Cemeteries.” [In Russian.] GEOS, Moscow.
Lisiecki, L.E., Raymo, M.E., 2005. A Pliocene-Pleistocene stack of 57 globally distributed benthic δ18O records. Paleoceanography 20, PA 1003.
Lozhkin, A.V., 1977. Berelekh mammoth population environments. [In Russian.] Trudy Zoologicheskogo Instituta 72, 6768.
Lozhkin, A.V., 2002. Boundaries of Beringia during the late Pleistocene and Holocene. In: Simakov, K.V. (Ed.), Quaternary Paleogeography of Beringia. [In Russian.] North East Interdisciplinary Science Research Institute, Far East Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Magadan, pp. 412.
Lozhkin, A.V., Anderson, P.M., 2011. Forest or no forest: implications for climatic stability in Western Beringia during Oxygen Isotope Stage 3. Quaternary Science Reviews 30, 21602181.
Lozhkin, A.V., Anderson, P.M., 2016. About the age and habitat of the Kirgilyakh mammoth (Dima), Western Beringia. Quaternary Science Reviews 145, 104116.
Lozhkin, A.V., Anderson, P.M., Eisner, W.R., Rovako, L.G., Hopkins, D.M., Brubaker, L.B., Colinvaux, P.A., Miller, M.C., 1993. Late Quaternary lacustrine pollen records from southwestern Beringia. Quaternary Research 39, 314324.
Lozhkin, A.V., Anderson, P.M., Matrosova, T.V., Minyuk, P.S., 2007. The pollen record from El’gygytgyn Lake: implications for vegetation and climate histories of northern Chukotka since the late middle Pleistocene. Journal of Paleolimnology 37, 135153.
Lozhkin, A.V., Glushkova, O.Yu., 1997. New palynological assemblages and radiocarbon dates from Quaternary deposits of northern Priokhot’ye. In: Gagiev, M.Kh., (Ed.) Pleistocene and Holocene of Beringia. [In Russian.] North East Interdisciplinary Science Research Institute, Far East Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Magadan, pp. 7079.
Lozhkin, A.V., Kotov, A.N., Ryabchun, V.K., 2000. Palynological and radiocarbon data of the Ledovyi Obryv exposure (south east Chukotka). In: Simakov, K.V. (Ed.), The Quaternary Period of Beringia. [In Russian.] North East Interdisciplinary Science Research Institute, Far East Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Magadan, pp. 118131.
Lozhkin, A.V., Parii, V.P., 1985. Experimental Radiocarbon Dates from Late Quaternary Deposits. [In Russian.] North East Interdisciplinary Science Research Institute, Northeast Science Center, USSR Academy of Sciences, Magadan.
Lozhkin, A.V., Postolenko, G.A., 1989. New data about the environmental evolution of the mountain region of the Kolyma region during the late Anthropogene. [In Russian.] Doklady Akademii Nauk 307, 11841188.
Melles, M., Brigham-Grette, J., Minyuk, P.S., Nowaczyk, N.R., Wennrich, V., DeConto, R.M., Anderson, P.M., et al., 2012. 2.8 Million Years of Arctic Climate Change from Lake El’gygytgyn, NE Russia. Science 337, 315320.
Mochanov, Yu.A, 1977. The earliest stages of human settlement in Northeast Asia. [In Russian.] Nauka Publishing House, Novosibirsk, Russia.
Murton, J.B., Edwards, M.E., Lozhkin, A.V., Anderson, P.M., Bakulina, N., Bondarenko, O.V., Cherepanova, M., Danilov, P.P., Boeskorov, V., Goslar, T., Stanislav, , Gubin, V., Korzun, J.A., Lupachev, A.V., Savvinov, G.N., Tikhonov, A., Tsygankova, V.I., Zanina, O.G. 2017. Preliminary palaeoenvironmental analysis of permafrost deposits at Batagaika megaslump, Yana Uplands, northeast Siberia. Quaternary Research 87, 314330.
Murton, J.B., Goslar, T., Edwards, M.E., Bateman, M.D., Danilov, P.P., Savvinov, G.N., Gubin, S.V., et al., 2015. Palaeoenvironmental interpretation of yedoma silt (ice complex) deposition as cold-climate loess, Duvanny Yar, Northeast Siberia. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 26, 208288.
Nikolskiy, P.A., Basilyan, A.E., Sulerzhitsky, L.D., Pitulko, V.V., 2010. Prelude to the extinction: revision of the Achchagyi-Allaikha and Berelekh mass accumulations of mammoth. Quaternary International 219, 1625.
Nikolskiy, P.A., Sulerzhitsky, L.D., Pitulko, V.V., 2011. Last straw versus Blitzkrieg overkill: climate-driven changes in the arctic Siberian mammoth population and the Late Pleistocene extinction problem. Quaternary Science Reviews 30, 23092328.
Pitulko, V.V., 2011. The Berelekh quest: a review of forty years of research in the mammoth graveyard in northeast Siberia. Geoarchaeology 26, 532.
Pitulko, V.V., Basilyan, A.E., Pavlova, E.Y., 2014. The Berelekh mammoth “graveyard”: new chronological and stratigraphic data from the 2009 field season. Geoarchaeology 29, 277299.
Reimer, P.J., Bard, E., Bayliss, A., Beck, J.W., Blackwell, P.G., Bronch Ramsey, C., Buck, C.E., et al., 2013. IntCal13 and marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55, 18691887.
Sher, A.V., 1971. Mammals and stratigraphy of the Pleistocene of the Far North-East of the USSR and North America. [In Russian.] Nauka Publishing House, Moscow.
Sher, A.V., Kaplina, T.N., Giterman, R.E., Lozhkin, A.V., Arkhangelov, A.A., Kiselyov, S.V., Kouznetsov, Yu.V., Virina, E.I., Zazhigin, V.S., 1979. Scientific Excursion on Problem “Late Cenozoic of the Kolyma Lowland.” Tour XI Guide, XIV Pacific Science Congress. Academy of Sciences, USSR, Moscow.
Sher, A.V., Plakht, I.R., 1988. Radiocarbon dating and problems of the Pleistocene stratigraphy in lowlands of the Northeast USSR. [In Russian.] International Geology Review 30, 853867.
Shilo, N.A., Lozhkin, A.V., Anderson, P.M., White, B.V., Stetsenko, T.V., Glushkova, O.J., Brigham-Grette, J., et al., 2001. First continuous pollen chronicle of changes in climate and vegetation of Beringia for the last 300 thousand years. [In Russian.] Reports of the Russian Academy of Sciences 376, 231234.
Shilo, N.A., Lozhkin, A.V., Titov, E.E., Shumilov, Y.V., 1983. Kirgilyakh Mammoth (Paleogeographic Aspect). [In Russian.] Nauka Publishing House, Moscow.
Sladkov, A.N., 1967. Introduction to Spore-Pollen Analysis. [In Russian.] Nauka Publishing House, Moscow.
Vasilchuk, Y., Punning, J.-M., Vasilchuk, A., 1997. Ages of mammoths in northern Eurasia: implications for population development and the late Quaternary environment. Radiocarbon 39, 118.
Vereshchagin, N.K., 1977. Berelekh Mammoth “Graveyard.” [In Russian.] Proceedings of the Zoological Institute, USSR Academy of Sciences, Leningrad.
Vereshchagin, N.K., Mochanov, Y.A., 1972. The world’s northernmost traces of the Upper Paleolithic. [In Russian.] Sovetskaya Arkheologia 3, 332336.
Washburn, A.L., 1979. Geocryology. Edward Arnold, London.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Lozhkin and Anderson supplementary material
Lozhkin and Anderson supplementary material 1

 Unknown (292 KB)
292 KB
Supplementary materials

Lozhkin and Anderson supplementary material
Lozhkin and Anderson supplementary material 2

 Unknown (367 KB)
367 KB

Another perspective on the age and origin of the Berelyokh mammoth site (northeast Siberia)

  • Anatoly V. Lozhkin (a1) and Patricia M. Anderson (a2)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed