The remains of a wolf cub that lived about 57,000 years ago have been found in the Canadian permafrost. It was a female about seven weeks old.
As water capped a wall of frozen mud in Yukon, Canada, a gold miner made an unusual discovery: a perfectly preserved wolf pup that had been “trapped” in the permafrost for 57,000 years. The pup’s remarkable condition, named Zhùr by locals from the T’ondek Hvech´in tribe, has given researchers a wealth of information about her age, lifestyle and the species’ relationship to modern wolves.
“This is the most perfect wolf mummy ever found. It’s almost 100 percent intact, missing only the eyes,” said Julie Meachen, associate professor of anatomy at Des Moines University. Scientists are also particularly interested in how Jur turned into a mummy in the permafrost in the first place – it takes a unique set of circumstances.
“Such mummies are rarely found in the Yukon. An animal has to die in a place with permafrost, where the ground is frozen all the time, and it has to be buried quickly. If it lies on the surface in the frozen tundra for too long, it will decompose or be eaten,” Michen says. Another important factor is how the wolf died. Animals that die slowly or are hunted by predators are less likely to be found in pristine condition. “We think the wolf cub was in its den and died instantly as a result of the pit collapsing,” Michen says.
Analysis of Jur’s genome confirmed that she was descended from ancient wolves from Russia, Siberia and Alaska, which are also ancestors of modern wolves. Remarkably, traces of fish were found in her stomach, which is unusual for meat-eating wolves. It seems that their diet was different during the Ice Age.
The results will appear December 21 in the journal Current Biology.