An adult bear found in the Siberian permafrost in the Lyakhovsky Islands in 2020 is not, as originally thought, about 30,000 years old. In fact, its age is rather of the order of 3,500 years.
That’s the verdict of researchers at Northeastern Federal University in Russia, who conducted a new autopsy of the well-preserved specimen. It remains an incredible find, providing an intriguing window into a past that isn’t as distant as first thought.
Initially, the team thought they were dealing with a cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), a species that disappeared about 24,000 years ago. Although not as big as modern brown bears (arctic ursuslisten), some are thought to have reached 2 meters (6.6 ft) in length and weighed up to 1,000 kilograms (2,205 lb).
Following the new investigation, we know we’re looking at its bulkier existing cousin. With a height of 1.55 meters (5.1 feet) and a weight of 78 kilograms (172 pounds), the animal was thought to be around 2 to 3 years old when it died of a spinal injury. .
“This discovery is absolutely unique: the complete carcass of an ancient brown bear,” said biologist Maxim Cheprasov, of Northeastern Federal University. Reuters.
“For the first time, a carcass with soft tissue fell into the hands of scientists, giving us the opportunity to study internal organs and examine the brain.”
The bear shares the same mitochondrial DNA as descendants found in northeastern Russia today, the researchers report. His remains are so well preserved that scientists can see what he ate before he died: plants and birds.
One mystery the carcass cannot solve is how the bear got to the Lyakhovsky Islands, currently separated from the mainland by a 50 kilometer (31 mile) stretch of water. He may have swum across or walked over a temporary ice bridge. Perhaps at that time the islands were still connected with the rest of Russia. For now, we can only guess.
To be fair to scientists, the first estimate of his age was an estimate, pending further analysis. Further tests need to be carried out on the remains to see what else can be learned from this fascinating discovery.
As many parts of the world heat up as the climate changes, we see more and more remnants emerging, preserved in the ice for millennia: tiny and microscopic creatures For severed wolf heads.
This region of Siberia is particularly known for the preservation of its ancient ecology and has attracted a lot of attention from paleontologists. With the risk that the old melting of the ice could free long-sleeping pathogens too, it’s a story that not everyone might be so happy to thaw out.