Review: Waking the Baby Mammoth

Walking the Baby Mammoth: airs on the National Geographic Channel, Sunday, April 26 2009

Not exactly archaeological, so I’m not best placed to comment, but an interesting documentary nevertheless.  It tracks the recovery and study of a baby mammoth, found in northwestern Siberia in 2007.  As charismatic mega-fauna go, few things are more charismatic than a fuzzy baby mammoth, which the film makers instinctively know – indeed, they digitally insert her into a number of scenes. Not just where you’d expect, in recreations of the Siberian steppe from 40 000 years ago, but also into a museum and onto a college campus, where she seems to function as muse for our hero Dan Fisher.

The documentary has two narrative arcs – one, the study of the mammoth, and two, the animistic/philosophical/cultural musings and impacts of its discovery on the gentlman who discovered her, Yuri. This second strain doesn’t work for me, but hey, it does do something we don’t often see in these kinds of discoveries, the effect on the communities in which discoveries take place. Archaeologists, take note.

As for the first arc, it was interesting to see the health precautions taken whilst handling this mammoth carcass. In some locations, a pair of latex gloves seems to be the extent; in others, we get the full ET with plastic tunnels and hazmat suits.

The promotional bumf that came with the preview claims ‘[researchers] hope to compare her DNA with that of other mammoths from the ice age to trace the migrations of mammoth populations over time and help solve the mystery of her species’ disappearance’. We get about 3 minutes of this at the end of the film.

On a final note, it was entertaining to see that, in Northwest Siberia at any rate, the ice age appeared green and verdant, compared with the filming of Yuri’s current address.