Russian reindeer herders on an Arctic archipelago have discovered a perfectly preserved Ice Age cave bear, the first find of its kind, offering a unique glimpse at the extinct species.
The adult bear, believed to have lived between 22,000 and 39,500 years ago, was found on the Lyakhovsky Islands between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea, Russia’s North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk said.
“It is completely preserved, with all internal organs in place including even its nose. Previously, only skulls and bones were found,” scientist Lena Grigorieva said on Tuesday (Australian time).
The find was revealed by melting permafrost and the university – the world’s leading centre of research into woolly mammoths and other prehistoric species – has hailed it as groundbreaking.
“This find is of great importance for the whole world,” Ms Grigorieva said.
Radiocarbon analysis will be used to determine the bear’s exact age.
The cave bear, or Ursus spelaeus, is a Eurasian prehistoric species or subspecies that became extinct about 15,000 years ago.
“Recent years have seen major discoveries of mammoths, woolly rhinos, Ice Age foal, several puppies and cave lion cubs as the permafrost melts in Siberia,” the university said.
Reindeer herders found the bear carcass on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island. It is the largest of the Lyakhovsky Islands, which are part of the New Siberian Islands archipelago that lies between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea in Arctic Russia.
The university said a well-preserved carcass of a cave bear cub was also found in another part of Russia at about the same time. It has not described that carcass’ condition in detail but said scientists hoped to retrieve DNA from it.