Scientists unveil 'best-preserved Ice Age animal ever found'
The cave lion, nicknamed "Sparta," was discovered in the Siberian Arctic and preserved in permafrost. Her fur, teeth and organs are still intact.
It may have lived 40,000 years ago, but it has remained frozen and intact until today.
A 28,000-year-old extinct cave lion preserved in permafrost was discovered in near-perfect condition in the Siberian Arctic, according to a new study.
The research, published last month in the journal Quaternary, details the discovery of two mummified cave lions, which two local mammoth tusk collectors found in 2017 and 2018. One cub, nicknamed “Sparta,” is believed to be the best-preserved ice age animal ever discovered.
A 28,000-year-old extinct cave lion nicknamed 'Sparta,' which researchers say is the most well-preserved Ice Age animal ever unearthed. (Centre for Paleogenetics / Love Dalén)
Initially, researchers thought that the cubs, which are believed to have been 1 or 2 months old when they died, were siblings, The Hill reported. However, the latest study shows that they differ in age by more than 15,000 years.
Sparta dates back about 28,000 years, while the male cub nicknamed “Boris” is more than 44,000 years old.
The cubs were preserved in permafrost -- a thick layer of soil that remains frozen throughout the year in many polar areas. Sparta’s fur is intact, as are her teeth, skin, soft tissue and organs.
The locations of the cave lion discoveries. (Centre for Paleogenetics)
"Sparta is probably the best-preserved Ice Age animal ever found and is more or less undamaged apart from the fur being a bit ruffled," Love Dalen, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Centre for Paleogenetics in Stockholm and author of the study, told CNN. "She even had the whiskers preserved," Dalen noted, adding in an interview with The Hill, "it's amazing to think that she belonged to a species of large carnivore that has been extinct for more than 10,000 years,"
Boris, on the other hand, was damaged but still largely preserved.
Sparta and Boris' heads. (Centre for Paleogenetics)
Researchers say that the cave lions must have been buried quickly and could have died in a mudslide or fell into a crack in the permafrost. "Maybe the cubs were buried under the ground following a landslide, and their bodies were deformed by the earth’s mass and permafrost features and froze quickly to become mummies," the researchers surmised in the paper.
The discovery of Sparta and Boris is the latest in a string of marvelous discoveries made amid thawing permafrost in Siberia. In recent years, a 42,000-year-old foal was unearthed in near perfect condition, photos showed, and just last year scientists revealed that the well-preserved carcass of a wooly rhinoceros had been extracted from melting permafrost.
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