Moscow: The first intact adult head of an ice age wolf has been found, preserved in permafrost for 40,000 years.
Still covered in thick fur and sporting a vicious-looking set of fangs, the 38-centimetre-long head was found on the Tirekhtyakh river in the remote Siberian region of Yakutia by locals hunting for mammoth tusks last year.
Now Russian and Japanese scientists hope the find will help them learn more about an ancient predator that roamed Europe and Asia alongside the woolly rhinoceros and mammoth.
"We want to answer the question of whether these wolves disappeared or turned into modern wolves, how much they are related to modern wolves," Albert Protopopov, head of mammoth fauna studies at the Yakutia Academy of Sciences, said.
The soil in most of Yakutia remains frozen all year round, preventing ancient tusks and carcasses from decomposing. Specimens have been emerging ever more frequently as climate change gradually thaws the permafrost.
Well-preserved infant cave lions have previously been discovered nearby.
The mammoth tusk industry, which has been booming after China banned the carving of elephant ivory, has become the main source of palaeontological discoveries in the region, and the tusk hunters gave the head to Protopopov.
Unsure if it was thousands of years old or just a few hundred, he passed a sample to the Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, where the head was found to date to 40 millennia ago. It was also discovered the wolf was between two and four years old when it died.
Researchers at the Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo performed tomographic scans to map muscles and tissue in the specimen.
Both the Swedish and Japanese facilities will continue to study the DNA and internal anatomy of the head, which includes a fully preserved brain.
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