- Reindeer herders recently discovered the carcass of an extinct cave bear in melting permafrost on a remote Siberian island.
- The bear’s body is preserved, with the teeth, internal organs and even the nose completely intact.
- Researchers announced Monday that the ancient bear died between 22,000 and 39,500 years ago.
- Scientists have unearthed cave bear skeletons before, but never an entire carcass like this.
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High above the Arctic Circle is a cluster of remote Siberian islands where ivory traders and scientists brave sub-zero temperatures to search for extinct creatures preserved in melting permafrost.
Those Lyakhovsky Islands have just produced an unprecedented discovery: a perfectly preserved adult cave bear, with nose, teeth and internal organs still intact.
Scientists think the cave bear died between 22,000 and 39,500 years ago. Its species, Ursus spelaeus, lived during the last ice age, then went extinct 1
The carcass was first discovered by reindeer herders, who then alerted researchers to the Northeast Federal University (NEFU) in Yakutsk, Russia.
“This is the first and only find of its kind – an entire bear carcass with soft tissue,” NEFU researcher Lena Grigorieva said Monday in a press release announcing the discovery.
Until now, scientists had only discovered cave bear skeletons, never a fully intact specimen.
The cave bear lived 22,000 to 39,500 years ago
Cave bears roamed as most of Europe and Asia were covered in glaciers, sharing the landscape with mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and giant sloths.
The creatures were huge – males could weigh up to 1 ton (2,200 lbs), which is about 500 lbs more than the largest living bears today.
Greigorieva and her colleagues have said for now that the bear’s age is an estimate until carbon dating cannot pinpoint a more accurate age. They also hope to study the carcass in more detail and perform a genetic analysis.
Another cave bear carcass – a cub – was recently found in Yakutia, Russia, so scientists hope to compare the two animals’ DNA.
Thawing of Siberian permafrost has produced other discoveries as well
As the planet warms, Siberian permafrost – land that remains frozen year round – is starting to melt. As it melts, ice age creatures buried within begin to be unearthed after being frozen for tens of thousands of years.
The Lyakhovsky Islands where the bear was found are full of woolly remains of mammoths from the last ice age.
Last year, scientists discovered a 40,000-year-old severed wolf’s head, complete with fur, teeth, brains, and facial tissue on the banks of a river in Yakutia.
Other ancient creatures found in the ice of Yakutia include two extinct cave lion cubs and a 42,000-year-old foal.
As temperatures continue to rise, more remains will likely be found.
Lauren Frias helped bring this story back.