A 50,000 year old mummified puppy holds traces of the past


She remained buried in perpetual frost until four years ago, when work on global warming and gold miner research discovered her in the Canadian Yukon Territory near Dawson City.

He wanted precious metal; he found paleontological gold.

That mummy is now on display at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center in Whitehorse – body and fur intact, lips pulled back so that her teeth are visible in what is somewhat reminiscent of a growl. The puppy is so well preserved that it is easy to see from visual observation that it is female. It also has the name Zhur (meaning wolf) in the language of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in people, in whose ancient homeland the wolf was buried.

Among fossil animals, Zhur is “basically the best-preserved wolf ever found,” said Julie Meachen, a paleontologist and professor of anatomy at the University of Des Moines in Iowa, who led a team of experts on the use of noninvasive techniques, including DNA, biochemistry and structure. bones, to study everything that could be learned about the ancient wolf puppy. She and her colleagues published the results Monday in Current Biology.

Angela Perry, an archaeologist from the University of Durham in England, who was not involved in the study, but collaborated with Dr. Meachen on other projects, she said the puppy research is an example of how scientists in recent years have been able to get back in time and paint a vivid and detailed picture of an individual animal. Researchers, she said, could ask more than just, “What were Arctic wolves like?” but “What was the life of this wolf like?” The first blow of happiness, said Dr.

Meachen, was the discovery and preservation of the puppy. Due to climate change, the permafrost on the Yukon is melting, as it is around the world. Many valuable fossils were also discovered in Siberia by heating.

The miner who found the mummified puppy, Neil Loveless, informed Granta Zazulu, a paleontologist from the Yukon Territorial Government, who contacted Dr. Meachena.

She et al. Zazula put together an interdisciplinary team of Canadian and American scientists to study Zhur. Looking at the X-rays of the bones and the development of the teeth in Zhur, they knew that at the time of her death she was between 6 and 7 weeks old. She was in good health and well fed, and the soil in which the den was excavated was sandy and therefore unstable, so the researchers concluded that she most likely died when the den collapsed. The fate of her probable friends from the litter, mother and the rest of the pack is a mystery. Studies of her DNA have shown that she is an Pleistocene Arctic wolf, the same species as today’s gray wolves, but not a direct ancestor. Just as humans came from Eurasia in waves, so did wolves.

Her world was one of the great herbivores and other beasts, many of which have disappeared, such as cats with saber-toothed teeth, cave bears, and American lions. Wolves of this time hunted large mammals like caribou, but a look at the chemicals preserved in Zhur’s bones showed that her diet was difficult for sea creatures, most likely salmon.

Today, there are wolves that live on salmon at certain times of the year, when fish swim in rivers and streams to spawn.

Gorman is a NYT journalist © 2020

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