A team of international scientists claim to have identified a pair of extinct ice age lions that are among the best-preserved specimens ever found.
Scientists believe that cave lion cubs, named Boris and Sparta, briefly roamed the steppe of what is now eastern Russia tens of thousands of years ago.
Cave lions, or panthera spelaea, once lived across much of Eurasia before it died out around 10,000 years ago.
These Ice Age big cats, although closely related, were larger than their African lion parents that still exist today.
The two cave lion cubs are believed to have been around a month or two when they died – already about the size of an adult house cat – but carbon dating has shown they were mummified, presumably in mud, at roughly the same place. years apart.
Boris, the least intact lion cub, is estimated to be around 43,448 years old and Sparta, the most intact lion cub at 27,962 years old, according to the study published in the journal Quatenary.
The Center for Paleogenetics at Stockholm University, which is the university residence of Love DalÃ©n, a member of the research team, tweeted that Sparta “is undoubtedly the best preserved #ice Age animal never found! “
In an email to NBC News, DalÃ©n said that to his knowledge “there have been four cubs found”.
“However, what makes this find unique is Sparta, the little female. To my knowledge, this is the best preserved frozen specimen from the last ice age ever found. Sparta is in near perfect condition,” he said. declared DalÃ©n.
Cave lions and early humans coexisted.
The Chauvet Cave in France, whose discovery in 1994 upset the chronology of human artistic achievements, features a wall covered with images of cave lions, with different color patterns from those of African lions today.
The researchers note that the French cave contains “half of all Paleolithic cave lion paintings known to date”.
Cave lions are believed to have less pronounced manes, and the difference in color between juveniles and adults gave researchers a glimpse of how the animal’s fur pattern might have changed from youth to adulthood.
âPrehistoric males were only female cave lions, or male cave lions did not have manes,â DalÃ©n said in the email. “That’s something we still don’t know. Guess we have to find a frozen adult male cave lion to figure it out.”
“It is still not clear exactly how cave lions adapted to living in the harsh conditions of high latitudes with their rapid seasonal periodicity, strong winds and cold, long winters with associated continuous nights,” wrote the researchers.
The document says there are clues, concluding that the cubs’ fur was similar but not identical to that of the African lion in existence today.
“Cave lion fur also has a long, thick fur undercoat made up of airy strombuliform fur hairs. It evenly covers the body of a cave lion cub and has most likely helped cave lion cubs adapt. in the cold climate “
Boris and Sparta have been found along the Senyalyakh River in the Yakutia region of Siberia, Russia.
Researchers could not say for sure how they died, as many cubs die young from various threats, but found that “cave lion cubs’ predatory death seems unlikely.”
Scientists conclude that the large number of well-preserved cave lion cubs found in this region of Russia “suggests that this area during the Karginian interstade (when the climate became relatively warm and tree vegetation expanded) was a site of favorable reproduction for the Lions cave. “
“It also seems likely that this site, during this period, exhibited some characteristics that made it more likely to freeze and preserve animals quickly. The site attracted cave lions to make dens, but it was probably also susceptible. to see them collapse. “