National Geographic : 2013 Apr
Mammoth Tusk Hunters 51 It takes Gorokhov almost 24 hours of con- tinuous digging to extract the tusk from the pebbly ice below. The specimen that emerges is as thick as a tree trunk—150 pounds—and in near-pristine condition. Before hauling the tusk away, Gorokhov tosses a silver earring into the hole he has dug, as an offering to the local spirits. If he gets the ancient relic safely home, it could fetch more than $60,000. The trade in mammoth ivory barely existed when Gorokhov was born in northern Siberia in 1966, on the same day, May 5, as his namesake, Karl Marx. He remembers as a child seeing rot- ting tusks on the banks of the Yana River, near his fishing village of Ust-Yansk. Free enterprise was banned in the Soviet Union, and many lo- cals considered it bad luck to disturb the tusks, which some believed came from giant molelike creatures that lived deep under the permafrost. Still, the ancient tusks held Gorokhov in their spell. Growing up in Yakutiya, a resource-rich region nearly the size of India that’s inhabited today by fewer than a million people and is officially called the Republic of Sakha, he was told that the Earth’s creator got so cold flying over this region that he dropped a wealth of treasures: gold, silver, diamonds, oil. But it was his schoolteachers’ real-life stories about 17th- century pioneers trading in mammoth tusks that captivated Gorokhov. Years later he would find library books with photographs of early 20th- century explorers: bearded men standing on Kotelnyy Island, dwarfed by mammoth tusks, Brook Larmer wrote about China’s terra-cotta warriors in June 2012. Evgenia Arbugaeva grew up in Yakutsk, a hub of the mammoth tusk trade.