Scientists have made an incredible, world-first discovery in the frozen north of Siberia: the head of an Ice Age wolf.
The severed head is incredibly preserved, thanks to Siberia’s permafrost, and still has fur, fangs, and even its brain.
It was discovered in 2018 in the Abyisky district in northern Yakutia, by a local man, Pavel Efimov, the Siberian Times reports.
The wolf head was revealed at the opening of an exhibition in Japan on frozen Ice Age creatures, including woolly mammoths. It has been dated to around 40,000 years old by Japanese scientists who have been working with a team from Russia’s Republic of Sakha Academy of Sciences.
It is not yet known how the head came to be severed, but the scientists have ruled out it being a trophy from an early hunter, as it’s thought humans only started to arrive in this northern part of Russia about 32,500 years ago.
The wolf is thought to have been a full-sized adult that died between 2 and 4 years old.
The head measures 40 centimeters (16 inches) long, around 25 percent bigger than modern-day gray wolves’, whose heads measure on average up to 28 centimeters (11 inches). Eurasian gray wolves’ entire length averages 1 meter to 1.6 meters (3.3 feet to 5 feet), so if this Pleistocene pupper was in proportion and representative of the average, it could have been around 2 meters (6.5 feet) in length.
“This is a unique discovery of the first-ever remains of a fully grown Pleistocene wolf with its tissue preserved. We will be comparing it to modern-day wolves to understand how the species has evolved and to reconstruct its appearance," Albert Protopopov, from the Republic of Sakha Academy of Sciences, told the Siberian Times.
It's unclear what species the wolf is, though it's unlikely it was a dire wolf (sorry GoT fans), as they roamed the Americas. It's most likely a megafaunal wolf, a form of Canis lupus, the gray wolf, adapted for a cold clime and for scavenging on Pleistocene megafauna.
During the Pleistocene, which dates from 2.6 million years ago to around 11,700 years ago when the last Ice Age came to an end, plenty of large creatures roamed the frozen plains of Siberia. As Siberia's permafrost melts due to global warming and climate change, many of these prehistoric creatures' remains have been revealed to us. In Yakutia, scientists have discovered the incredibly well-preserved remains of woolly mammoths, woolly rhinos, cave lion cubs, and a foal of an extinct Siberian horse species.
Scientists at the Swedish Museum of Natural History will examine the wolf’s DNA. Earlier this year, researchers managed to extract liquid blood from the incredibly preserved remains of a 42,000-year-old foal, but there are no plans to clone or bring back this long-dead creature. It's unlikely we'll see a Pleistocene Park just yet.
[H/T: Siberian Times]