A rare discovery of a mummified wolf pup and caribou calf in Yukon dating from the ice age has amazed palaeontologists, who say the carcasses are unlike any ever found before.
The two animals have been carbon-dated to more than 50,000 years old and remain in incredible condition, with not only bones and teeth preserved, but also flesh, hair, and muscle tissue. They were found by gold miners near Dawson City in a layer of permafrost.
CBC News was the first to report on the remarkable findings. The two specimens were initially found in 2016 but are still making headlines and drawing mass attention from scientists and the general public alike.
The Yukon is no stranger to impressive archaeological discoveries. It is not uncommon for Ice Age bones and fossils to be unearthed in the northern Canadian territory. Finding well-preserved mummified specimens, however, is particularly unusual. One paleontologist, Grant Zazula, says that this is “the only mummified wolf pup ever found in the world.”
Ice age mummies found in Klondike gold fields on display in Dawson City. Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in @ChRobertaJoseph, @Premier_Silver and Minister of Tourism and Culture @jeaniedendys will be in Dawson today to unveil the mummified remains. Learn more: https://t.co/ma9aX3cjv6 pic.twitter.com/97QLi7kEHg— Government of Yukon (@yukongov) September 13, 2018
Zazula is a Yukon government paleontologist and said that the wolf pup, which has its head, tail, fur, and skin all intact is “spectacular” and “world-class.” Even the animals’ eyelashes have been preserved. He added that seeing such well-preserved carcasses, which still look like animals, “brings the ice age to life.”
The caribou calf is not a complete carcass like the wolf pup but still includes the torso, head and front limbs.
The caribou was discovered amongst the ashes of volcanoes that erupted in Alaska during the ice age, some 80,000 years ago. The remains are believed to be some of the oldest mummified soft tissues in the world.
Tony Beets owns the gold mine where the caribou calf was found and is famous for appearing on Gold Rush, a popular reality TV show. The wolf pup was discovered in a different mine about a month later, in July 2016, and was initially mistaken for a dog by the miner who first spotted it.
Both the miners contacted researchers about their discoveries and sent the specimens off to be studied and preserved by experts. The University of California Santa Cruz will conduct genetic testing on the animals’ hair and tissues. They hope to learn more about the animals’ diets and their connections to similar species living today.
The wolf pup was also examined by a veterinarian, who estimates that it was no older than eight weeks old when it died.
The mummified animals are of incredible scientific value and have both been accepted by the Canadian Conservation Institute. They are now on display at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre in Dawson City before they're moved to the Beringia Interpretive Centre in Whitehorse.