A child playing with the new city of Lego on Arctic exploration might think that scientists dig mammoths and saber-toothed cats from ice cubes using huge saws, ice-dragging machines with huge claws and four helicopters from propeller. Reality, unfortunately, is not as scientific as science fiction, according to experts.
"The real version is much dirtier, more murky, much more like a home improvement kit that is pulled out the back door to do the job," says Victoria Herridge, a paleobiologist and associate scientist at the Museum of Natural History of London. "The animals themselves would be more like a zombie version of a mammoth compared to a pristine one."
The new Lego City set will be released on August 1 and has an Arctic exploration base equipped with snowmobiles, giant trucks with cranes and rotating saws, a skiplane for supplies and helicopters, as well as ice runners, laptops and cameras. When Mark Carnall, the collections manager at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Oxford, first saw the images of the set, he wrote that he was not "too sure of the veracity of the scientific team".  "Your average paleontologist who works with permafrost on things like mammoths and dragon teeth would feel great envy with the range of equipment," says Carnall The Verge .
Researchers digging specimens of permafrost, or frozen ground, in the Arctic are satisfied with many more tools on Earth. Instead of using trucks with huge ice saws, they use picks and shovels to cross the ice or the ground, says Jan Freedman, curator of natural history at the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery in the UK. Instead of using giant helicopters or trucks to take corpses from the field to the laboratory, they use "sleds dragged by a jeep, or often dragged by Eskimo dogs," writes Freedman in an email The Verge .  "Snow mobiles are the only thing close to reality," he says. Helicopters are sometimes used to transport very large specimens, but that rarely happens, only if scientists can secure a lot of funds through grants. And sadly, "not with helicopters with four propellers!" Adds Freedman. (We send an email to Lego to ask what the company considers when creating sets that represent scientists and their work, and we will update the story if we hear it.)
Herridge points out something vague: the amazingly preserved animals of the ice age boxed in ice. On the set of Lego, the mammoth and saber-toothed cat seems alive. His eyes are open! But "nobody has found a perfectly preserved and perfectly pristine mammoth carcass," he says The Verge . Actually, the specimens found in melting permafrost are … less pretty. They definitely show signs of decay, says Herridge, who performed an autopsy on a 40,000-year-old mammoth called Buttercup that was found on Maly Lyakhovsky Island in northern Siberia.
That mammoth had died when she was trapped in a swamp, so everything that was above the mud line was seized by wolves and other animals, but everything below was He kept, like his legs, liver and stomach, says Herridge. "It was perfect, almost as if she had died last week," he says. "He was covered in beautiful hair that he could caress and it was soft."
Unlike the Lego game, these specimens are also not extracted from ice cubes, says Herridge. Permafrost is like a vast expanse of frozen land and earth, but in the summer it thaws. In the area of Belaya Gora, in northeastern Siberia, local inhabitants use high-powered water hoses to dig for mammoths and other animals of the ice age. (A large pair of mammoth tusks can be sold for $ 50,000 or even $ 100,000, she says). "You would not be on the ice" and "astride," says Herridge. "Actually, you're talking about melting mud." And then there's the smell: the corpses of mammoths stink of rotten flesh, she says.
Despite criticism, Herridge, Carnall and Freedman are excited that Lego is starring animals in the ice age and inspiring children about science. "I think it's brilliant, for me it's clearly futuristic and clearly not supposed to be a realistic thing," says Herridge. "I love the idea that people have embraced the notion of this permafrost world and wondered what there is to discover." Carnall says he hoped the set would include less popular animals of the ice age: although mammoths and saber-toothed cats are the usual suspects, due to box office movies like Ice Age Earth It was also populated by the first horses, hyenas, deer and cave bears.
There was one more thing he wanted to include in Lego, in order to be more realistic: "a cooler full of beer for the end of a really hard day".