Scientists in Siberia have discovered and grown ancient fruit — thanks to some Arctic ground squirrels that lived thousands of years before the end of the last Ice Age.
The squirrels had stashed the fruit in their burrows dug deep into the permafrost. The fruit quickly froze and has remained frozen for 30,000 years. The squirrel burrows were left undisturbed and were apparently discovered by people looking for the remains of mammoths and other Ice Age creatures. Scientists took the frozen fruit and, using advanced techniques, have been able to grow plants from the fruit remains — making the fruit, from a plant called Silene Stenophylla, by far the oldest plant material brought back to life after an extended period of dormancy. The discovery gives scientists hope that they might be able to find, and revive, the frozen remains of extinct Arctic region plants.
Who knows what happened to the squirrels that originally stashed the fruit? Perhaps they were eaten by a stray saber-tooth tiger or some other Ice Age predator. But their pack-rat storage habits have allowed scientists to bring an ancient plant back to life — and have given new meaning to the notion of squirreling things away.