A Russian man stumbled on a ghastly sight while strolling along the Tirekhtyakh riverbank last summer. It was the ferocious severed head of a gigantic wolf.
The grisly remains still had all of its hair and its fangs, but the animal wasn’t even remotely a recent find. The man who made the discovery in Abyisky District of Yakutia, Pavel Efimov, delivered the wolf head to local scientists to examine. They found from examination that it dated back some 40,000 years ago—a remarkable age considering how well preserved it was.
The ancient wolf’s head harked back to the late Pleistocene period, and had been perfectly preserved by the permafrost. The find is the first well-preserved wolf specimen found from that period, the Siberian Times reported.
Analysis determined that the fully grown wolf had been 2 to 4 years old at the time of its death. It was, nevertheless, massive by modern standards. The giant head spans an incredible 16 inches in length (40 cm). That’s about half the length of a modern wolf’s entire body, which is typically between 26 inches and 34 inches long (66 cm to 86 cm), the Times said.
— Daily Mirror (@DailyMirror) June 8, 2019
“This is a unique discovery of the first ever remains of a fully grown Pleistocene wolf with its tissue preserved,” said Albert Protopopov, from the Republic of Sakha Academy of Sciences. “We will be comparing it to modern-day wolves to understand how the species has evolved and to reconstruct its appearance.”
The wolf’s head was put on display as part of a woolly mammoth exhibition in Tokyo, along with other previously frozen remains, including an immaculately preserved cave lion cub.
Still snarling after 40,000 years, a giant Pleistocene wolf discovered in Yakutia.
Sensational find of head of the beast with its brain intact, preserved since prehistoric times in permafrost.https://t.co/w4FoRB16Ur pic.twitter.com/8QbthEfay1
— The Siberian Times (@siberian_times) June 8, 2019
“Their muscles, organs and brains are in good condition,” said Naoki Suzuki, a professor of paleontology and medicine from Jikei University School of Medicine. “We want to assess their physical capabilities and ecology by comparing them with the lions and wolves of today.”
Currently, scientists from the Swedish Museum of Natural History plan on examining the wolf head’s DNA to compare its genetic composition with that of modern wolves of today, according to the Siberian Times.
This is not the first frozen wolf found harking back to prehistoric times. An ancient mummy pup was unearthed in Canada that dated back over 50,000 years ago.
A study done in 2015 examined DNA from a 35,000-year-old rib bone from a wolf found in Siberia. They were looking into the evolutionary split between wolves and dogs.
Besides the fascinating contributions to science to be gained by such studies, they also give us some reassurance; the remarkable condition of the once-fearsome predator makes it more than a little comforting to place as many years as possible between these fanged behemoths and their much smaller counterparts of modern day.
Scientists Unearth ‘Mind-Blowing’ Haul of 500 Million-Year-Old Fossils
In related news, an accidental discovery on a river bank in China’s Hubei province has unearthed an incredible collection of thousands of fossils.
Paleontologists estimate the fossils are about 518 million years old and are extraordinary for their documentation of soft-bodied organisms. Skin, eyes, and even internal organs have been “exquisitely” well preserved.
“What these localities give you is anatomy,” Harvard paleontologist Joanna Wolfe told National Geographic. “These are the best of the best.”
Huge fossil discovery made in China’s Hubei province https://t.co/sKcRDZCmFE
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) March 24, 2019
Researchers documenting the find have identified 101 different animal species, with over half of the discovered fossils being new to science.
The ancient fossils were collected from the site of Qingjiang, near Danshui river in China’s Hubei Province. The BBC wrote enthusiastically of the paleontologists’ “mind-blowing” findings, estimated to be from the Cambrian period, which began some 541 million years ago. In the few tens of millions of years that followed, “complex marine ecosystems sprung up all around the world,” National Geographic noted, “teeming with creatures that form the base of today’s major animal groups.”
Professor of Geology Robert Gaines is part of an international team that unearthed a 518-million-year-old fossil site in South China — one of the most important Cambrian fossil sites discovered in modern history. https://t.co/p2ZSVoFHfr pic.twitter.com/PTRFqvmFA2
— Pomona College (@pomonacollege) March 21, 2019
The team who collected the specimens published their findings in the journal Science in late March 2019.
Professor of Geology Robert Gaines is part of an international team that unearthed a 518-million-year-old fossil site in…
Professor Robert Gaines, a geologist who took part in the study, expressed astonishment at the find. “Their sheer abundance and their diversity of forms is stunning,” he said, according to the report.
Professor of Geology Robert Gaines is part of an international team that unearthed a 518-million-year-old fossil site in South China — one of the most important Cambrian fossil sites discovered in modern history. https://t.co/p2ZSVoXiE1 pic.twitter.com/8aIlIppZez
— Pomona College (@pomonacollege) March 23, 2019
Professor Allison Daley, who contributed a paleontological analysis to the proceedings, admitted, “It blew my mind.”
Speaking to BBC’s Science in Action, she added: “I never thought I’d get to witness the discovery of such an incredible site … For the first time we’re seeing preservation of jellyfish. [When] you think of jellyfish today,” she continued, “they’re so soft-bodied, so delicate, but they’re preserved unbelievably well at this site.”
Jakob Vinther, a paleobiologist at the University of Bristol, told Current Biology that the treasure hunt isn’t over yet. “It’s a Pandora’s box,” he said. “Every time we find a new site like this. There’s still many gaps.”
“There’s still many weird wonders.”
Louise Bevan contributed to this report.