The Yukon, the land of adventures and mysteries, returns to generate headlines in digital media. A woolly mammoth calf in an exceptional state of conservation was found last Tuesday in this Canadian territory. “It is one of the most incredible ice age mummified animals discovered in the world”, paleontologist Grant Zazula said in a government statement issued last Friday. The remains were found under permafrost in a gold mine south of Dawson City, on the Canadian border with Alaska.
It is the first such discovery in North America, and the second in the world (a similar specimen was found in Siberia in 2007). It is a female of 140 centimeters in length. Experts believe that she was between 30 and 35 days old when she died. They also calculate that the body exceeds 30,000 years in a state of conservation. Woolly mammoths became extinct about 4,000 years ago.
A mine worker, who was carrying out excavation tasks, found the remains of the animal. His supervisors contacted the authorities of the Yukon and those of Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin, the indigenous community where this gold exploitation is located, a short time later. A team of geologists and paleontologists traveled there to take charge of the work.
Speaking to CBC, Grant Zazula said that experts found a piece of the animal’s intestine with grass. “That tells us what he did in the last moments of his life”, he said. Zazula and the other researchers believe that the mammoth was probably a few steps from its mother, but that she ventured a little further to eat grass and drink water, and then got stuck in the mud. “That event, from getting stuck in the mud to the burial, was very, very quick”, he added.
The mammoth has been given the name Nun Cho ga, which means “big baby animal” in the local language. “We are all very excited, including the elderly and other members of our community”, said Debbie Nagano, Director of Heritage for this indigenous group. The calf was taken to a nearby place, where a traditional ceremony was held with the participation of miners, politicians, and scientists. The fate of those remains has not yet been decided.
As a curious fact, the Yukon is distinguished for being an extremely fertile terrain for the discovery of animals from the ice age. In addition to woolly mammoths, researchers regularly discover remains of steppe bison and ancient specimens of squirrels, horses, and wolves, among other species, dating between 10,000 and 100,000 years old.