Scientists at the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, Russia, announced on Saturday the discovery of a well-preserved cave bear on the New Siberian island of Bolshyoy Lyakhovsky, Anna Liesowska reports for the Siberian Times.
The adult bear lived its life sometime in the last Ice Age, at the same time as large animals like woolly mammoths, mastodons and saber-toothed tigers. When the bear died, permafrost preserved its soft tissues, organs and fur, making it the best-preserved example of a cave bear found yet. Most cave bear remains discovered so far have been odd bones and skulls.
Coincidentally, a preserved cave bear cub was recently found on the Russian mainland, the university says in a statement. Using the two discoveries, scientists hope to learn more about cave bears’ lives.
The whole, adult bear carcass is “the first and only find of its kind,” paleontologist Lena Grigorieva says in the university statement. “It is completely preserved, with all internal organs in place, including even its nose. This find is of great importance for the whole world.”
Reindeer herders working on the island discovered the ancient bear carcass and reported it to the university, which specializes in studying preserved Ice Age mammals.
The team identified it as a cave bear, a species of bear that’s now extinct. It’s last common ancestor with modern bears lived about 1.2 to 1.4 million years ago, according to a study published in the journal Current Biology in 2001, George Dvorsky reports for Gizmodo. Cave bears could weigh up to 1,540 pounds, which is larger than most polar bears. The cave bear carcass found on Bolshyoy Lyakhovsky probably lived between 22,000 and 39,500 years ago, and the researchers hope to narrow that window with further research.
The cave bear adult and cub are the latest additions to a growing list of preserved Ice Age carcasses emerging from the permafrost. Experts expect more preserved animals to appear as permafrost melting accelerates because of climate change.
Researchers have uncovered woolly mammoths on the Lyakhovsky islands, and last year, scientists found a 40,000-year-old wolf’s head, Aylin Woodward reports for Business Insider. The wolf head still had its fur, teeth, brain and facial tissue.
This year, scientists at the Centre for Palaeogenetics at Stockholm University analyzed the DNA of Ice Age lion cubs discovered in Yakutsk, per Gizmodo. Similar ancient DNA analysis revealed that woolly rhinos that lived during the Ice Age were likely driven extinct not by humans, as previously thought, but by a warming climate, Alex Fox reported for Smithsonian magazine in August.
The cave bear carcass presents several opportunities for new research into Ice Age ecosystems. Analysis of its teeth might reveal details about its diet and the territory it grew up on; analysis of the contents of its stomach will show whether the bear ate plants, animals or both; and ancient DNA analysis could illuminate its evolutionary history.
“The research is planned on as large a scale as in the study of the famous Malolyakhovsky mammoth,” which researchers attempting to clone, Grigorieva says in the statement.