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French archaeologists finished up the excavation of an impeccably preserved woolly mammoth skeleton on Thursday (November 8) at a quarry 50 km east of Paris.
Scientists working at the excavation site in Changis-sur-Marne applied a silicon cast to the mammoth remains before they will be removed from the excavation site.
The nearly complete mammoth skeleton, only the fifth such specimen found on French soil, is causing a stir in the archaeological community not only for its completeness -- a rare occurrence in itself -- but also for the Neanderthal-made flint spearheads found amongst the remains.
Excavation manager Gregory Bayle said the discovery of the artefacts -- dating from the Lithic stage -- will allow archaeologists and scientists to better understand early humans' relationship with the colossal mammal.
"So, we're still in the field stage, which means we've exploited the terrain, we've recorded all the information we need to really understand why this mammoth was here, what its story is," Bayle said
"And the presence of these objects from the Lithic stage will propel us to better understand the possible intervention of humans on this animal. This is very rare -- it's already rare to find such a complete skeleton -- but to also be able to associate Lithic objects to such a skeleton is even rarer. So we will be able to see the relationship of a human intervention on this carcass," he added.
The skeleton was found by accident by archaeologists exploring an ancient Roman site near a quarry owned by Mexican cement company CEMEX. The exceptional discovery of the mammoth skeleton brought the CEMEX workers into close contact with researchers at the excavation site.
"It's a nice discovery for us -- it's true that we work hand in hand with archaeologists," said Cemex representative Xavier Saconney.
"At first we had an obligation to ask the archaeologists to come. But after the discovery of this exceptional event, which was a mammoth, we worked together a lot so that we could maintain good conditions for the mammoth excavation so it could be presented. So we worked together a lot to achieve this -- (the archaeologists) so they could have good working conditions and us so we could continue to work in the quarry right next door, because the mammoth was found in close proximity to the quarry that's right behind me," he said.
Scientists working on site are still trying to piece together the mammoth's history. Nicknamed Helmut by the excavation team, although the animal's sex has yet to be determined, the mammoth was thought to be a young adult between the age of 20 and 30 at the time of its death.
Scientific director of the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) Pascal Depaepe said archaeologists hypothesize that Neanderthals scavenged meat off Helmut's body as the mammoth was already dying.
"We hypothesize that the Neanderthals came to remove pieces of meat from this carcass. What brought us to this hypothesis was the discovery of two pieces of flint carved by Neanderthals, which were directly associated with the remains that we excavated at this site. This is something that is extremely rare -- something that is not known, in France in any case -- for the mammoth in such an obvious manner," Depaepe said.
Helmut the mammoth's skeleton is estimated to date from 125,000 to 200,000 years ago. The woolly mammoth, or 'Mammuthus Primigenius' was first discovered in sedimentary deposits in Eurasia dating from the second to last Ice Age.