Russia uncovers 40,000-year-old wolf head, preserved in ice

Russia uncovers 40,000-year-old wolf head, preserved in ice

A head of an ancient wolf
The head of an ancient wolf, which had been preserved in permafrost for over 40,000 years, is seen on the banks of the Tirekhtyakh river in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Russia. (REUTERS/Valery Plotnikov)

MOSCOW: About 40,000 years ago, a wolf died in what we know as Siberia. Now its severed head has been found, and because of the freezing conditions, it is so well preserved that its fur, teeth, brain and facial tissue are largely intact.

A Yakutia resident, Pavel Yefimov, found the head last summer on the banks of the Tirekhtyakh river, close to the Arctic Circle in the region of Yakutia, local media outlet the Siberian Times reported.

The head was handed over to the Science Academy of Yakutia. They sent samples and measurement data abroad and with help from colleagues in Japan and Sweden determined its age as approximately 40,000 years, the Siberian Times reported.

The head was shown in public this week in footage provided to Reuters TV by the academy. It shows the head of an animal, visibly bigger than that of a modern wolf, covered with fur and with teeth visible. Its eyes are missing.

Albert Protopopov, director of the academy's mammoth studies department, told CNN that while frozen wolf cubs had been unearthed in the past, the discovery of an adult wolf's head was extremely rare.

"This is the first time the head of an ancient wolf has been found whose soft tissue has been preserved after 40,000 years, a grown wolf," he said.

The next step in the wolf's journey is to undergo a procedure called plastination, a technique of replacing water and fat with plastics. That prevents decay and preserves tissue for scientific purposes.

"This is a fixation by chemical means, so that the fur would not come off and so that we could keep it (the head) unfrozen," Valery Plotnikov, one of the academy's scientists, said in the footage.

Protopopov told CNN that scientists are building a digital model of the brain and the skull's interior for further study. A team in Stockholm is analysing the wolf's DNA.

An ancient cave lion cub, an extinct species preserved in Yakutia's vast areas of permafrost, is also being investigated, according to the CNN report.

More animal remains are likely to be found in the region as the planet warms, Protopopov said.

"The number of discoveries is growing because of the thaw of the permafrost," he said.

Source: Reuters/CNA/cy