A 9,300-year-old frozen bison mummy has been found in Eastern Siberia, according to a presentation this week at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's Annual Meeting in Berlin.
The still-furry beast is one of the most complete frozen mummies ever found. It literally freezes in time the appearance and anatomy of a steppe bison (Bison priscus), whose species went extinct shortly after the end of the Ice Age.
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It's been named the "Yukagir bison mummy," after the region where it was found.
"The exceptionally good preservation of the Yukagir bison mummy allows direct anatomical comparisons with modern species of bison and cattle, as well as with extinct species of bison that were gone at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary," co-author Evgeny Maschenko from the Paleontological Institute in Moscow was quoted as saying in a press release.
The remarkable specimen still has its complete brain, heart, blood vessels and digestive system. Some of its organs have significantly shrunk over time, but that's to be expected given its advanced age.
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The researchers, led by Natalia Serduk of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, conducted a necropsy on the remains. The investigation determined that the bison showed a relatively normal anatomy. A clue to its demise, however, is a lack of fat around its abdomen. This suggests that the bison died from starvation, but the scientists aren't sure of that yet.
Compared to today's bison in America, the Ice Age bison sported much larger horns and a second back hump. Steppe bison like this now-frozen one were commonly featured in Stone Age cave art, often shown being hunted by humans.
Remains for a woolly rhino, a 35,000–39,000-year-old horse, and a mammoth were also recently found near the Siberian site where the bison mummy was discovered.
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"The next steps to be done include further examination of the bison's gross anatomy, and other detailed studies on its histology, parasites, and bones and teeth," co-author Olga Potapova said.
She added, "We expect that the results of these studies will reveal not only the cause of death of this particular specimen, but also might shed light on the species behavior and causes of its extinction."
Photo: The Yukagir bison mummy. Credit: Boeskorov et al, Integrative Zoology