Nearly Perfect Cave Lion Corpse Found in Siberian Permafrost | Smart News

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The specimen (pictured) was so well preserved in the permafrost that its whiskers are still intact.

Love Dalén / Stockholm University Center for Paleogenetics via Twitter

The video shows scientists examining a dead lion cub. They are taking hair samples from the tiny corpse, which appears to have died just a few days ago. In fact, it has been dead for almost 30 millennia, covered in permafrost in Siberia until recently.

Sparta, as this female cave lion is called, is estimated to be 27,962 years old, according to a study published this month in the journal quaternary. It is perhaps the best-preserved specimen ever found, so intact that it still has whiskers, reports Carly Cassella of Science Alert. Sparta was probably one or two months old at the time of his death.

Scientists have found this Ice Age cave lion (panthera spelaea) and another less intact bear cub named Boris, estimated to be 43,448 years old, at an excavation site near the Senyalyakh River in eastern Siberia above the Arctic Circle. Larger than African lions, the species lived in cooler climates across Eurasia until its extinction around 10,000 years ago, reports Tim Fitzsimmons of NBC News.

“To my knowledge, this is the best-preserved frozen specimen from the last ice age ever discovered,” study author Love Dalén, evolutionary geneticist Stockholm University Center for Paleogenetics, says NBC News. “Sparta is in near perfect condition.”

Cave lions coexisted with early humans for thousands of years, according to the study. For example, the Chauvet cave in France depicts cave lions drawn on the walls. The first cave paintings are estimated to be over 30,000 years old.

The fur coloring of cubs appears to be different from that of mature cave lions, which requires further study to determine if aging is causing any changes. The researchers also noted similarities in the fur between the Ice Age big cats and the lions that still roam the savannas of Africa. The species is believed to have smaller manes than African lions while adapting to exist in cooler climates.

“Cave lion fur also has a long, thick fur undercoat made up of airy strombuliforme fur hairs, ”the report says. “It evenly covers the body of a cave lion cub and probably helped cave lion cubs adapt to the cold climate.”

Although mostly intact, scans of the cubs’ corpses showed that they had suffered skull damage, dislocated ribs and other injuries at the time of death. No signs of predation were found, which led researchers to speculate that the cub had accidentally died.

“Considering their preservation, they must have been buried very quickly,” Dalén told CNN’s Katie Hunt. “So maybe they died in a mudslide or fell into a permafrost crack. Permafrost forms large cracks due to seasonal thaw and freezing.

Scientists hope to sequence the genome of the two cubs to better understand the extinct species.



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