In the far northeast region of Russia, in an area called Yakutia, portions of the permafrost are melting. From time to time, the melt exposes the tusks of long-dead wooly mammoths, which are prized by collectors, so local hunters regularly prowl the melt zone, looking for trophies they can sell.
Instead, five years ago the hunters found . . . a puppy, still locked in the ice but apparently perfectly preserved.
When the hunters made the find they alerted scientists who flew to the area and found another frozen puppy from the same litter nearby. The puppies date back 12,460 years, to the last Ice Age. The remains of the two puppies have now been extracted from the permafrost and are being studied by excited researchers. Because the puppies apparently were killed by a mudslide and then immediately encapsulated in the oncoming ice, all of their soft tissue — brains, internal organs, fur, and skin — has been preserved, which is exceptionally rare. Even parasites on the puppies’ bodies were frozen in place and are being studied. (It makes you wonder how quickly the ice was advancing, doesn’t it?)
Because the puppies were found close to some butchered and burned mammoth bones, suggestive of the presence of early humans, scientists are very curious as to whether the pups were simply part of a wolfpack in the area, or were part of a wolf-like but separate species that already was allied with early humans and later developed into fully domesticated dogs. The research on the remains of the two puppies will undoubtedly help in the broad ongoing effort to unravel where the modern dog came from.
It’s pretty amazing to see the body of a mammal so perfectly preserved from a time long before the pharoahs and the building of the Sphinx, when mammoths and saber-toothed tigers still roamed the planet. It makes you wonder what other remains might be locked in the permafrost, waiting to be exposed in the gradual melt. Could there be a perfectly preserved Neanderthal or one of those mysterious Denisovans who could teach us a lot about the dawn of humans?