In frozen Canadian Yukon, miners dug up a mummified wolf cub from the ice age, believed to be more than 50,000 years old, and the incomplete corpse of a caribou calf from the same period.
During the last ice age, most of Canada was covered with thick ice but the Yukon escaped the glaciers—the wolf pup and caribou calf likely roamed the region alongside wooly mammoths.
The wolf pup is a complete specimen, with everything including its fur and tail intact, but the caribou calf did not age quite as well. It’s essentially the mummified front half of the animal.
Paleontologist Grant Zazula said the specimens unearthed southeast of Yukon, are among the oldest mummified mammal soft tissue in the world.
“To our knowledge, this is the only mummified ice age wolf ever found in the world,” Yukon government paleontologist Grant Zazula told Canadian broadcaster CBC.
Zazula said local paleontologists were thrilled when they saw the remains.
“It’s beautiful, the fur, it’s got the cute little paws and tail and the curled upper lip showing its teeth. It’s spectacular,” he said.
Both have been radiocarbon dated to a time more than 50,000 years ago when the northern landscape was an extremely cold, grassy tundra.
Many other animals that roamed the land when they were alive are now extinct, including western camels and woolly mammoths.
Both specimens were discovered by miners.
The mummified caribou calf was found on Tony Beets’ placer gold mine on Paradise Hill on June 3, 2016. It includes nearly the entire front half of the caribou carcass, including a torso, head, and two front limbs and with skin, muscle and hair intact.
The caribou was at a site that contains a volcanic ash bed that dates to approximately 80,000 years ago.
The wolf was found July 13, 2016, on the Favron Enterprises Ltd., claim and is exceptionally well preserved.
Researchers will study the remains to see what they can learn about caribou and wolf ancestors through genetic testing. They can also learn about the animals’ diets, which hold clues to what the environment was like at that time, by studying the chemical composition of their bones and other strategies.
The mummified animals will be on display in Dawson City for the rest of the month, they will join an exhibit at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre in Whitehorse.
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