The Klondike region of Canada is famous for its gold, but now other notable ancient treasures have been excavated from the melting permafrost.
Two mummified glacial mammals – a wolf boy and a caribou calf – were discovered in 2016 by gold miners in the area and unveiled on Thursday at a ceremony in Dawson in Yukon area.
It is extremely rare that fur, skin and muscle tissues are stored in the fossil record, but all three are present on these specimens, which are dated with radiocarbon to over 50,000 years old.
The wolf boy is preserved in its entirety, including exceptional details of the head, the tail, the legs, the skin and the hair. The caribou calf is partially preserved, with head, trunk and two front limbs intact.
"As far as we know, this is the only mummified ice age ever to be found in the world," said Grant Zazula, a local paleontologist who works with the Yukon government, who also emphasizes the support of local gold miners and mining communities for paleontological research.
Julie Meachen, a morphologist of meat eaters who works with ice-age mammals at Des Moines University and will soon be researching the wolf cub, said: "When Grant sent me the photo's and asked me to join in, I was really very excited, I was a bit outside myself.
"We want to do an old DNA test to see who is connected and look at his microbiome to see if there are gut bacteria."
Other researchers around the world reacted with similar excitement to the discovery of this old predator and its prey, which have been preserved well enough for future research on factors such as cause of death, diet, health, age and genetics.
Elsa Panciroli, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, said: "The bones of the ice age are relatively common in the Yukon, but having an animal that is preserved with skin and fur is exceptional – you just want to reach and pet It is a suggestive look at the ice age world. "
Thomas Higham, an expert in archaeological dating at the University of Oxford, said: "The remains are very suggestive because they allow us to make almost face-to-face contact with animals that are tens of thousands of years old, and still look a lot more recently."
It is thought that the wolf and the caribou have inhabited a dry tundra landscape together with other animals, such as woolly mammoths.
The maintenance of the skin and fur suggests that they lived in a cold period, said Jan Zalasiewicz, a paleobiologist at the University of Leicester. "A drier and more dry climate would help maintain the skin and coat, and this usually happens when the climate gets colder," he said. "The trick here is to find a way to freeze the carcass in these dry conditions and bury it … you have to find a way to dry it and put it in the freezer very quickly."
Panciroli said: "Hopefully, further research on this" pup-sicle "can provide some old DNA that could provide new information about the wolf populations that were living in the Yukon at the moment." Where did they come? for example, and how do they relate to modern wolves? "