Researchers Are Examining a 9,000-Year-Old Bison Mummy

The well-mummified specimen of a steppe bison, a now-extinct species that lived in the Ice Age, has intact organs

bison cave painting
Prehistoric cave painting of a steppe bison from Altamira, Spain Gianni Dagli Orti/Corbis

In the reaches of East Siberia, in the north of the Ust-Yana district, a section of lake shore slumped in 2011, revealing the frozen 9,000-year old body of a bison. The locals found the remains and delivered them to the Academy of Sciences in Yakutia, who realized this mummified bison was remarkably well preserved, reports The Siberian Times. Now, the first results from the necropsy are in, the researchers announced at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The bison is a steppe bison, a species that lived during the early Holocene epoch, or 9,000 to 12,000 years ago. The mummy is in such good condition that the brain appears to be complete, though shrunken. Other organs, including the heart, blood vessels and stomach look to be close to their normal size, writes the Daily Mail. The find is a rare opportunity, explains Olga Potopova of the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs in South Dakota:

It is one out of three relatively complete steppe bison mummies that exist in the world, and it is the most complete out of those three.

The body is in excellent condition. Normally, we find the mummies that are significantly damaged by predators in the past, or by modern arctic foxes and others, as soon as mummies are thawed out from the permafrost.

Such processes happen very quickly, and a mummy that thaws out during summer may be gone in a few months forever. 

Very few complete steppe bison have ever surfaced. This Siberian bison joins a much older steppe bison skeleton, nicknamed Bison Bob, that was discovered in 2013 and the remarkably well-mummified Alaska steppe bison (a different but related species) named Blue Babe. However, records of animals from the Siberian specimen’s era, known as the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary, are rare, Potopova says.  

“The exclusively good preservation of the Yukagir bison mummy allows direct anatomical comparisons with modern species of Bison and cattle, as well as with extinct species of bison that were gone at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary," Evgeny Maschenko, a scientist from the Paleontological Institute in Moscow working on the project, says in a press release

Further study of the bison’s parasites and stomach contents could give the researchers a more complete picture of life in the Holocene. They’ve noted so far that this animal had very little fat and may have died of starvation. He was about 4 years old. But more clues could led them to possible causes for the whole species’ extinction. 

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