Previously, scientists had discovered only cave bear bones. We now have an intact cave bear, but this isn’t always a good thing.
The Siberian permafrost has been a treasure trove of prehistoric artifacts where Ice Age animals used to lie perfectly frozen in time. This is now all changing with the eternal frost melting and specimens of such ancient species emerging from it as the woolly mammoth, the cave lion, a 42,000-year foal, or an Ice Age wolf-dog puppy hybrid.
Another remarkable specimen recently discovered is the mummified carcass of a 39,500-year-old cave bear.
According to The Siberian Times, the specimen was found by reindeer herders on the Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island, the largest of the Lyakhovsky Islands which belong to the New Siberian archipelago.
“This is the first and only find of its kind – a whole bear carcass with soft tissues,” Lena Grigorieva, a molecular paleontologist at the North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) in Yakutsk, pointed out. “It is completely preserved, with all internal organs in place.”
The scientist added that although fellow researchers had come across skulls and bones of prehistoric cave bears before, it was the first time they’d found one that was so completely intact.
“This find is of great importance for the whole world,” she said enthusiastically.
Indeed, the cave bear specimen found this time is so well preserved that even its nose, fur, and teeth are still completely intact, besides the internal organs.
The mummified cave bear is of the extinct species Ursus spelaeus, which lived in Eurasia during the Middle and Late Pleistocene period. Since cave bears of this kind lived sometime during the Karaginsky interglacial period, it would be fair to assume that this particular specimen lived sometime between 39,500 and 22,000 years ago. However, a full examination is yet to be concluded.
Ursus spelaeus’s population began to diminish about 15,000 years ago before finally going extinct. Unlike many of its modern relatives, this prehistoric bear most likely wasn’t a carnivore, though on rare occasions it may have been cannibalistic in order to survive.
Despite its mostly vegetarian diet, it was a magnificent beast measuring up to 11.5 feet tall when standing on hind legs, and weighing somewhere between 1,100 and 3,300 pounds. By comparison, the heaviest polar bear – the largest species of bear currently living on the planet – ever recorded weighed about 2,209 pounds.
The groundbreaking discovery was quickly coupled with another startling find. On the nearby mainland of Yakutia, researchers were alerted to the remains of an Ice Age cave bear cub. This specimen has yet to be examined properly, but it is also suspected to have lived around the same time period as the adult one.
“It is necessary to carry out radiocarbon analysis to determine the precise age of the bear,” said senior researcher Maxim Cheprasov at the Mammoth Museum laboratory in Yakutsk.
Scientists are now planning to collaborate with international colleagues to study both specimens in the framework of a large-scale research project similar to the one on the famous Malolyakhovsky mammoth, Cheprasov said.
He was referring to a 2019 study that examined the cells extracted from the remains of a well-preserved 43,000-year-old mammoth carcass found on the island of Maly Lyakhov, another one of the Lyakhovsky Islands.
“We will have to study the carcass of a bear using all modern scientific research methods – molecular genetic, cellular, microbiological and others,” he explained.
So, we’re sure to hear about more incredible Siberian discoveries soon. However, the fact that all of this is happening at the expense of permafrost melting is unquestionably bad news.