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40,000-year-old severed wolf’s head unearthed in Siberia during hunt for mammoth tusks

2019-06-13

Wolf in ZOO (Antagain/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

What’s more exciting than finding a 40,000-year-old severed wolf’s head?

The chance to map its genome.

The fully grown, ancient wolf’s head was completely intact, including its “rich mammoth-like fur and impressive fangs,” noted The Siberian Times – right down to its brain.

The prehistoric mammal’s head had been preserved in permafrost for between 30,000 and 40,000 years and was probably 2 to 4 years old.

At 15.7 inches long, the head is nearly half the size of a modern wolf’s body. Paleontologists can’t wait to have at its DNA.

“This is a unique discovery of the first ever remains of a fully grown Pleistocene wolf with its tissue preserved. We will be comparing it to modern-day wolves to understand how the species has evolved and to reconstruct its appearance,” Albert Protopopov, of the Republic of Sakha Academy of Sciences, told The Siberian Times after the head was presented, along with an “immaculately preserved” cave lion cub, at a museum exhibit opening in Japan last week.

“There are numerous samples from them in terms of bones and teeth and so on, but this is the first frozen carcass from an adult wolf that has been found,” paleontologist Love Dalén told The Washington Post Wednesday.

The severed wolf’s head was chiseled out of the Siberian permafrost by a Russian man who was searching for mammoth tusks, The Washington Post said.

Alongside the wolf the scientists presented a perfectly preserved cave lion cub. All are part of an exhibition, “The Mammoth,” at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) in Tokyo, according to The Japan News.

Also part of the exhibit is a 42,000-year-old foal found in the same area of Russia whose corpse yielded intact blood and urine.

“Their muscles, organs and brains are in good condition,” said Naoki Suzuki, a professor of paleontology and medicine with Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo. “We want to assess their physical capabilities and ecology by comparing them with the lions and wolves of today.”

It’s not clear whether modern wolves are related. And that’s what makes the discovery of a potential Ice Age ancestor so exciting.

“We want to answer the question of whether these wolves disappeared or turned into modern wolves, how much they are related to modern wolves,” Albert Protopopov, who leads mammoth fauna studies at the Yakutia Academy of Sciences, told The Telegraph. “It’s important for science because wolves in the Pleistocene were broadly dispersed like cave lions. There were lots of wolves, but we don’t know much about them.”