Gold miners uncover 50,000-year-old mummified remains of Ice Age caribou calf and wolf pup

  • Gold miners in Yukon discovered mummified mammals back in summer 2016
  • Radiocarbon analyses show both wolf and caribou are at least 50,000 years old
  • Caribou remains are one of the oldest examples of mummified mammal tissue
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Gold miners in Canada have discovered the remarkably well-preserved remains of a caribou calf and wolf pup that each lived more than 50,000 years ago.

The Ice Age specimens were found in the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territory, a First Nation territory in Yukon.

Officials say the ancient caribou dug up from a site containing an 80,000-year-old volcanic ash bed now stands as one of the oldest examples of mummified mammal tissue in the world.

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Gold miners in Canada have discovered the remarkably well-preserved remains of a caribou calf and wolf pup (shown) that each lived more than 50,000 years ago. The wolf pup’s remains were complete, with its head, tail, paws, skin and hair

After miners first discovered the mummified animals in the Klondike region, researchers with the Yukon Paleontology Program recovered and conducted analyses of the remains.

With each still containing hair, skin, and muscle tissue, the experts say the discoveries are extremely rare.

The 50,000-year-old caribou and wolf pup could help to ‘shed light on Yukon’s fascinating Ice Age history and will help us understand how these long gone creatures lived in the environment they inhabited,’ said Premier Sandy Silver.

Both of the mummies were discovered back in 2016.

The caribou calf was found on Tony Beets’ placer gold mine on Paradise Hill June 3 of that year. Beets is best known from Discovery’s show, Gold Rush.

The mummified wolf pup was found the following month.

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Officials say the ancient caribou dug up from a site containing an 80,000-year-old volcanic ash bed now stands as one of the oldest examples of mummified mammal tissue in the world. Only the front half of its body remained intact


The discoveries hold special significance to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, upon whose land they were discovered. Both animals will be on display for the rest of the month, before being moved to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre in Whitehorse. The mummified wolf is shown

While the caribou carcass is missing some parts of its body, with only the front half still intact, the wolf pup was found to be complete, with its head, tail, paws, skin and hair.

‘We found the caribou and our neighbours, the Favron’s found the wolf pup,’ Beets wrote on Facebook.

‘Such amazing things to be found here under the midnight sun.’

The two Ice Age specimens were unveiled at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre last week.

And, they hold special significance to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, upon whose land they were discovered.


The Ice Age specimens were found in the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territory, a First Nation territory in Yukon




The caribou calf (shown) was found on Tony Beets’ placer gold mine on Paradise Hill (right) June 3 2016. Beets is best known from Discovery’s show, Gold Rush

COULD WE RESURRECT MAMMOTHS?

Male woolly mammoths were around 12 feet (3.5m) tall, while the females were slightly smaller.

They had curved tusks up to 16 feet (5m) long and their underbellies boasted a coat of shaggy hair up to 3 feet (1m) long.

Tiny ears and short tails prevented vital body heat being lost.

Their trunks had ‘two fingers’ at the end to help them pluck grass, twigs and other vegetation.

They get their name from the Russian ‘mammut’, or earth mole, as it was believed the animals lived underground and died on contact with light – explaining why they were always found dead and half-buried.

Their bones were once believed to have belonged to extinct races of giants.

Woolly mammoths and modern-day elephants are closely related, sharing 99.4 per cent of their genes.

The two species took separate evolutionary paths six million years ago, at about the same time humans and chimpanzees went their own way.

Woolly mammoths co-existed with early humans, who hunted them for food and used their bones and tusks for making weapons and art. 


The most widely used technique, known as CRISPR/Cas9, allows scientists to create a hybrid animal from the preserved fossils of woolly mammoths and merging it with cells from a living elephant. The two species share 99.4 per cent of their DNA

‘De-extincting’ the mammoth has become a realistic prospect because of revolutionary gene editing techniques that allow the precise selection and insertion of DNA from specimens frozen over millennia in Siberian ice. 

The most widely used technique, known as CRISPR/Cas9, has transformed genetic engineering since it was first demonstrated in 2012.

The system allows the ‘cut and paste’ manipulation of strands of DNA with a precision not seen before.

Using this technique, scientists could cut and paste preserved mammoth DNA into Asian elephants to create and elephant-mammoth hybrid. 

Mammoths roamed the icy tundra of Europe and North America for 140,000 years, disappearing at the end of the Pleistocene period, 10,000 years ago.

They are one of the best understood prehistoric animals known to science because their remains are often not fossilised but frozen and preserved.

‘For Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, wolf and caribou are very important and interconnected,’ said Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Roberta Joseph.

‘The caribou has fed and clothed our people for thousands of years. The wolf maintains balance within the natural world, keeping the caribou healthy.’

Both mummified animals will be on display for the rest of the month, before being incorporated into an exhibit at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre in Whitehorse.

‘These specimens will help scientists learn more about the ancient mammal species that roamed Beringia, increasing our knowledge and ability to share the stories of this lost, ancient land,’ said Minister of Tourism and Culture Jeanie Dendys.

 

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