A study published Monday revealed that a 57,000 year-old mummified wolf puppy was discovered in thawing permafrost near Dawson City, Yukon, in Canada, signifying the presence of mammal populations in a interglacial period many millennia ago.
The young female wolf, which was discovered by a gold miner in 2016, is the most complete wolf mummy known.
Named Zhùr, meaning "wolf" in the Hän language of the local Yukon First Nation community, it was found in a state of exceptional preservation, from the papillae on her lips to her skin and fur.
While mummified fossil carcasses of large mammals exist in Siberia, they are less common in Alaska and the Yukon.
This wolf belonged to a population that had genetic connections to wolves in both Alaska and Eurasia, but not to the wolves living in the Yukon today. According to National Geographic, the findings suggest the first gray wolves in the Yukon were wiped out and later replaced by other populations.
“To have such extraordinary preservation of a carnivore is a unique situation to look into Ice Age ecosystems from a predator’s point of view,” McMaster University paleogeneticist Tyler Murchie, who was not involved in the study, told National Geographic.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology, reveals more about the Yukon environment 57,000 years ago. Researchers can determine that the puppy was weaned from its mother and subsisted on meals from rivers and streams.
“Ancient DNA repeatedly demonstrates how much more complex evolutionary histories and paleoecology are than we might otherwise derive from studies of bones and fossils,” Murchie said.
The paleontologists estimate that Zhùr was between 6- to be 7-weeks old when her den collapsed. The den entrance fell, entombing the animal in the permafrost.