- Reindeer herders recently discovered the carcass of an extinct cave bear in melting permafrost on a remote Siberian island.
- The bear’s body is preserved with teeth, internal organs and even nose completely intact.
- Scientists announced Monday that the ancient bear died between 22,000 and 39,500 years ago.
- Researchers have previously hollowed out skeletons from cave bears before, but never a whole carcass like this.
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High above the Arctic Circle lies a group of remote Siberian islands where ivory traders and scientists brave temperatures below zero to search for extinct creatures preserved in the melting permafrost.
These Lyakhovsky Islands yielded just an unprecedented find: a perfectly preserved adult cave bear ̵
Scientists believe that the cave bear died between 22,000 and 39,500 years ago. Its species, Ursus spelaeus, lived during the last ice age and then became extinct 15,000 years ago.
The carcass was first discovered by reindeer herders, who then warned researchers at the Northeast Federal University (NEFU) in Yakutsk, Russia.
“This is the first and only find of its kind – a whole bear body with soft tissue,” NEFU researcher Lena Grigorieva said in a press release announcing the find on Monday.
Until now, scientists had only uncovered cave bear skeletons – never a completely intact specimen.
The cave bear lived 22,000 to 39,500 years ago
Cave bears roamed while most of Europe and Asia were covered in glaciers, sharing the landscape with mammoths, saber-toothed cats and giant land sloths.
The creatures were massive: the males could weigh up to 1 ton (2200 pounds), which is about 500 pounds heavier than the largest bears found today.
Greigorieva and his colleagues said for now that the age of the bears is an estimate until carbon dating can determine a more accurate age. They also hope to examine the carcass in more detail and perform a genetic analysis.
Another hollow bear body – a cub – was recently found in Yakutia, Russia, so researchers hope to compare the two animals’ DNA.
Thawing of Siberian permafrost has also yielded other discoveries
As the planet warms, the Siberian permafrost – soil that remains frozen year-round – begins to thaw. As it melts, ice age creatures buried inside begin to be dug up after lying frozen for tens of thousands of years.
The Lyakhovsky Islands, where the bear was found, are filled with woolly mammoth remains from the last ice age.
Last year, researchers discovered a 40,000-year-old severed wolf head complete with fur, teeth, brain and facial tissue on the banks of a river in Yakutia.
Other ancient creatures found in the Yakutia Ice include two extinct cave lion cubs and a 42,000-year-old foal.
As temperatures continue to rise, more debris is likely to be found.
Lauren Frias contributed reporting to this story.