A discovery in Russia’s icy northeastern corner has scientists dreaming of bringing the long-extinct wooly mammoth back to life. Most wooly mammoths are believed to have died off about 10,000 years ago, partially due to hunting by early humans, with a few survivors making it until around 1700 B.C.

An international expedition in the republic of Yakutia has found intact cells in the remains of one of the huge beasts, but it’s not yet clear whether the find includes the living cells necessary for cloning.

Semyon Grigoryev, a professor at North-East Federal University, told Reuters that it’s possible, but unlikely, that the permafrost of the far northern region has kept cells alive. If found, a single living cell could be multiplied, bringing the creatures back to life.

Controversial South Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk, whose company did the world’s first commercial dog cloning, will examine the mammoth remains in the hopes that they can be cloned. In 2006, Hwang was found to have fabricated data and used unethical methods in human cloning experiments.

Since at least 2008, scientists have been talking about the possibility of bringing mammoths back to life. One method that has been discussed is modifying the DNA of an elephant’s egg based on the sequencing of mammoth DNA from ancient remains.

Of course there’s the question of why anyone would want to bring a huge hairy monster to life. The most obvious reason is to put mammoths in a zoo to give modern humans a sense of what our ancient ancestors were up against on their hunting expeditions. But developing the technology could also lead to the reversal of more recent extinctions.

The X Prize Foundation, which organized a race in 2004 to put the first private vessel into space, has announced a “Jurassic Park X Prize” for the creation of a “safe, repeatable and reliable” method for bringing extinct creatures back to life. Despite the ominous name, the foundation’s purpose is to find a way to rebuild the populations of some of the many species that humans have driven out of existence.

Main image credit: Charles R. Knight/Wikimedia Commons