More than 50,000 years ago, a cave in sandy soil collapsed on top of a wolf pup, killing it, protecting it from air and moisture, causing the pup’s body to mummify in the cold.
It remained buried in permafrost until four years ago when the work of global warming and a gold miner’s exploration discovered it in Canada’s Yukon Territory near Dawson City.
He wanted a precious metal; What he found was paleontological gold.
This mummy is now on display at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center in Whitehorse – body and fur intact, lips shrunken so their teeth are visible in a growl. The puppy is so well preserved that it is easy to tell by visual observation that he is female.
It also has a name, Zhur (wolf) in the language of the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin, in whose ancestral land the wolf was buried.
Among the fossil animals, Zhur is “basically the best-preserved wolf ever found,” said Julie Meachen, a paleontologist and professor of anatomy at Des Moines University in Iowa who has a team of specialists in non-invasive techniques including DNA and biochemistry Headed up and bone structure to study everything there was to be learned about the ancient wolf pups. She and her colleagues published the results in Current Biology on Monday.
Angela Perri, an archaeologist at Durham University in England who was not involved in the study but worked on other projects with Dr. Collaborated, Meachen said the pup’s study was an example of how scientists in recent years have been able to accomplish this back in time and paint a vivid and detailed picture of a single animal.
The researchers, she said, couldn’t just ask, “What were arctic wolves like?” but “What was that wolf’s life?”
The first stroke of luck, said Dr. Meachen was the discovery and preservation of the puppy. Due to climate change, the permafrost is melting in the Yukon as it is around the world. In Siberia, too, warming has exposed valuable fossils.
The miner who found the mummified puppy Neil Loveless notified Grant Zazula, a Yukon Territorial Government paleontologist who had contacted Dr. Meachen turned. You and Dr. Zazula assembled an interdisciplinary team of Canadian and American scientists to study Zhur.
Using a variety of methods such as carbon dating, DNA studies of the evolutionary age of the fossil fuels, and chemical studies of the oxygen content in the sample, they focused on the time Zhur lived around 56,000 to 57,000 years ago. It was a mild period in an ice age known as the Interstadial, when temperatures were warm enough for rivers and streams to flow in the area.
From x-rays of the bones and the development of the teeth in Zhur, they knew that she was between 6 and 7 weeks old at the time of her death. She was in good health and well fed, and the soil the cave was dug into was sandy and therefore unstable, leading the researchers to conclude that she most likely died when the cave collapsed. The fate of their likely littermates, their mother, and the rest of the pack is a mystery.
Studying her DNA showed she was a Pleistocene Arctic wolf, the same species as today’s gray wolves, but not a direct ancestor. Just as humans came from Eurasia in several waves, so did wolves.
Their world was one of large herbivores and other carnivores, many of which had disappeared, such as saber-toothed cats, cave bears, and American lions. Wolves of this time hunted large mammals like caribou, but a look at the chemicals preserved in Zhur’s bones revealed that their diet was heavy on marine life, most likely salmon.
There are wolves today that live on salmon at certain times of the year when the fish swim rivers and streams to spawn.
Once the coronavirus pandemic is over, you can travel to Whitehorse to see Zhur in person. For an early look, the Interpretation Center will host a Facebook Live event on Monday, December 21st at 3 p.m. Eastern with a team of experts studying the fossil that is showing up at their locations.