Two stunningly preserved ice age mammals were unearthed by gold miners in northwest Canada and unveiled in a ceremony on Thursday.
A wolf pup and a caribou calf were found by the miners in the Yukon territory in 2016 in the area’s melting permaforst.
It’s exceedlingly rare for fur, skin and muscle tissues to be preserved in the fossil record, but all three are present on these specimens, which have radiocarbon-dated to more than 50,000 years old, reports the Guardian.
The wolf pup is reportedly preserved in its entirety, including exceptional details of the head, tail, paws, skin and hair, while the caribou calf is partially preserved, with head, torso and two front limbs intact.
“To our knowledge, this is the only mummified ice age wolf ever found in the world,” Grant Zazula, a local palaeontologist working with the Yukon government, told the British publication.
Julie Meachen, a carnivore morphologist who works with Ice Age mammals at Des Moines University and will soon be doing research on the wolf pup, told the Guardian: “When Grant sent me the pictures and asked me to participate I was really, really excited. I was sort of beside myself.
“We want to do an ancient DNA test to see who it’s related to and look at its microbiome to see if there are gut bacteria still there,” said Meachen.
Other researchers around the world reacted with similar excitement to the discovery of this ancient predator and its prey, which are well enough preserved to allow for future investigation of factors such as cause of death, diet, health, age and genetics.
Elsa Panciroli, a palaeontologist at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Ice Age wolf bones are relatively common in the Yukon, but having an animal preserved with skin and fur is just exceptional – you just want to reach out and stroke it. It’s an evocative glimpse into the Ice Age world.”