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Emotional welcome for 'beautiful' mammoth Lyuba

Following months of anticipation, Lyuba the 42,000-year-old baby mammoth has finally arrived at the Museum for the opening of the Mammoths: Ice Age Giants exhibition this Friday.

After a week in transit, Lyuba, the most complete woolly mammoth ever found, has finished the long journey to the Museum from northern Russia. It is the first time she has been seen in western Europe.

She is currently being installed in the Mammoths: Ice Age Giants exhibition, alongside models of her huge relatives.

Museum mammoths expert Prof Adrian Lister, who helped unpack her specially designed crate, said nothing could have prepared him for the 'incredible experience' of seeing Lyuba in the flesh.

Model exhibit

As the lid of the crate was opened, Prof Lister exclaimed, 'She's beautiful'.

'It was an emotional experience to be face to face with a baby mammoth from the Ice Age,' Prof Lister said. 'I'm so thrilled that our visitors will be able to experience that, too.'

Lyuba, named after the wife of the reindeer herder who found her in Siberia in 2007, is on loan from the Shemanovsky Museum in the Arctic Circle. 

Russian treasure

Yuri Khudi discovered the baby mammoth with his son while they were searching for wood on the bank of the frozen Yuribei River. 

She is the size of a large dog and was probably only one month old when she died. Her body is so well preserved because she was buried in wet clay and mud and then froze. Remnants of her mother's milk are still in her stomach.

Prof Lister said it was 'an honour' to be showing Lyuba as part of the exhibition.

While she is here, scientists will examine her remains in the hope of discovering more about what caused the giant beasts to become extinct. Climate change and habitat destruction are two possibilities.

UPDATE 14 July 2014: CT scans of Lyuba have revealed sediment in her trunk, suggesting she fell into a sticky mud hole and choked to death. Milk and pollen were discovered in her stomach.

Prof Lister and Museum dwarf elephant expert Dr Victoria Herridge recently presented new research at the International Conference on Mammoths and their Relatives in Greece, which will be published soon.

Mammoth hunting

Several accounts of new research highlighting the interaction between mammoths and people were also presented at the conference, including a 'village' of five mammoth bone huts excavated at Gontsy in the Ukraine and the discovery of mammoth bones in northern Siberia with the tips of spear points still embedded in them. 

This is only the second known example of direct evidence of mammoth hunting.

'All of this is remarkable evidence for the importance of mammoths and elephants in the lives of our ancestors.' Prof Lister said.

'Elephants and mammoths were clearly scavenged and hunted on occasion, and their remains used for building huts and making ivory implements, as well as for meat and skin. None of this necessitates, however, that they were hunted in sufficient numbers to cause their extinction.'

Mammoths: Ice Age Giants was on display at the Museum from 23 May - 7 September 2014.