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Extinct Baby Horse—Its Skin and Hair Intact—Found in the Siberian Permafrost

The foal lived between 30,000-40,000 years ago

(ASSOCIATED PRESS)
smithsonian.com

Every so often, the nearly intact remains of ancient creatures emerge from Siberia’s permafrost, or perpetually frozen soils. Last year, for instance, a local resident stumbled upon an extinct cave lion cub that had been trapped—and preserved—in the permafrost for thousands of years. Other finds have included a 9,000 year old bison, a juvenile woolly rhino, and ancient roundworms that were reportedly resurrected by scientists.

Now, as the Associated Press reports, researchers have made another remarkable discovery in the Siberian region of Yakutia: an extinct baby horse, so well preserved that its skin, hair, tail and hooves have persisted to the present day.

The foal was found in the enormous Batagaika crater, which has formed as rising temperatures have thawed the Siberian permafrost, causing ice and soil to collapse into an expansive pit. Scientists believe that exposed layers of soil in the crater could reveal 200,000 years of climate history. And since it began to grow, likely in the 1980s, Batagaika has revealed a number of long-frozen animals.

Equus lenensis (a Pleistocene horse) and Bison priscus (prehistoric steppe bison) have emerged from the thawing soil, as have assorted remains of cave lions and wolves,” according to NASA.

A team of Russian and Japanese scientists found the baby horse during an expedition into the crater, the Siberian Times reports. The foal lived around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, and belonged to an extinct species known as Equus lenensis, which is “genetically different from [horses] living in Yakutia now,” Semyon Grigoryev, head of the Mammoth Museum in Yakutia, tells the Siberian Times.

The unfortunate horse was around two months old when it died, and according to Grigoryev, “could have drowned after getting into some kind of a natural trap.”

Scientists are now hoping to learn more about the foal and the environment it lived in. They have already taken samples of the horse’s hair, its “biological fluid,” and the soil that covered it, according to the Siberian Times. Researchers also want to study the contents of the horse’s bowel to get a better picture of its diet.

While other well-preserved specimens have previously surfaced in Siberia’s frozen grounds, Grigoryev tells the AP that he was “surprised” by the quality of the foal’s remains. The animal is, he added, the best-preserved ancient foal that has even been found.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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