"Now entire villages are surviving on the trade in mammoth bones. And a new verb has entered the vernacular: mamontit, or "to mammoth" -- meaning, to go out in search of bones."
The LA Times has an article about one of the side-effects of the ongoing 'shrinkage' of permafrost in Russia (likely due to global warming): more mammoth carcasses are turning up. So much so, in fact, that it's engendered a whole industry based on the recovery and exportation of mammoth ivory. While the scale of this 'industry' is increasingly staggering, as the article notes, it's not exactly a novel phenomenon, although the intensity at which it's now unfolding certainly is
In truth, this trade is not entirely novel. Man has been hunting mammoths in Russia's icy north as far as memory reaches. The permafrost holds bones that bear workmanship from the Stone Age -- which scientists in Siberia sometimes call the "bone age" in homage to the many weapons and tools hacked from mammoth bones.
What is most troubling about this is the fact that frozen mammoths are a non-renewable resource (that just sounds odd to write!). Really, just like archaeological sites, every mammoth carcass potentially offers a wealth of evidence about the biology and behavior of these extinct animals, most of which will be lost unless it is properly recovered at the find spot. Not paying sufficient attention to context results in that much less information we can get on those shaggy beasts. I'm fully sympathetic to the 'people are doing this so they can eat' argument; that said, most of the people interviewed on the record in the article don't exactly seem to be part of the huddled masses this new form of 'mammoth hunting' purports to save from a life of misery. In fairness, one of the bone hunters does mention they're getting 'carbon' dates from the remains, but how good is the association, and what happens if the date is useless due to contamination or whatnot? And shouldn't they also be collecting DNA samples and contextual paleoenvironmental data? I don't know... the whole piece strikes me as describing more the culture modern 'mammoth cowboys' (and it's not flattering) than any kind of legitimate, justified and ultimately scientifically useful practices.