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Gold Miner Finds 57,000-Year-Old Wolf Pup in Yukon Permafrost

The pup's remains were so intact that the scientists were able to reconstruct her life.

57,000 years ago from today, a 7-week-old wolf pup was killed when her den in Canada's Yukon territory suddenly collapsed. The wolf's body was frozen and buried under permafrost which meant its body would barely decay, leading to its discovery by a gold miner in 2016.

Frozen in permafrost, a gold miner would discover the mummified remains of the gray wolf pup. Now, in a study published in the journal Current Biology, scientists are shedding light on the lives and times of the poor pup and piecing together how life was like in Canada years ago.

Reconstructing the 57,000-year-old pup's life

The mummified remains provide an immense insight and exceptional details into the life of the pup since the preservation is quite exquisite.

Julie Meachen, associate professor at Des Moines University and lead author of the new study about the wolf, told Business Insider, "She is complete, with all her soft tissues intact and even her fur. This is a very rare find," and added that pup Zhùr; the name which was given to her by the team, meaning "wolf" in the local indigenous Hän language; is the most complete wolf mummy ever seen. 

Gold Miner Finds 57,000-Year-Old Wolf Pup in Yukon Permafrost
Source: University of Alaska Fairbanks

"Since Zhùr was so intact, we can learn a lot from her short life," Meachen said. With the only thing missing being her eyes, her nearly complete remains have let scientists to "reconstruct her life."

Looking into the ancient DNA

The lovely pup Zhùr lived during the times of mastodons, giant beavers, and gray wolves. The Arctic glaciers were receding temporarily in those times. 

The researchers found geochemical signatures in Zhùr's teeth indicating that she subsisted on meals from rivers and streams, providing more insight into the pup’s diet with isotopic analysis.

Gold Miner Finds 57,000-Year-Old Wolf Pup in Yukon Permafrost
Source: University of Alaska Fairbanks

She was about seven weeks old when she passed away according to the 10 follicles of hair that were used to determine her age.

Through stable isotopic analysis, the researchers were able to see that she appeared to have died in a den collapse which also resulted in the extraordinary preservation of her body. 

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More studies will be conducted to study the pup’s ancient DNA and the scientists are hoping to gain a greater understanding of her place in the ancient world and the evolution of the animal.  

Grant Zazula, Government of Yukon paleontologist who initially tested the pup using radiocarbon dating, said in a video chat with Gizmodo, "We see bones all the time. We work with bones. We have collections of bones. We dig up bones,” said Zazula. “But when you have something with flesh and skin and hair, it just makes the job real. When you’re staring at this little [pup, you realize:] 'This was an animal that was running around 60,000 years ago, eating salmon in this landscape that’s familiar yet totally strange.'"

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