Reindeer herders on the remote Siberian island of Bolshoy Lyakhovsky discovered a whole cave bear carcass with soft tissues still preserved after 22,000 years being buried in the frozen soil, as the Siberian Times reported on Saturday.
Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island, or Great Lyakhovsky, is the largest of the Lyakhovsky Islands belonging to the New Siberian Islands archipelago between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea in northern Russia. The finder transferred the right to research to the scientists of North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) in Yakutsk, which is at the forefront of research into extinct ice-age mammals.
The carcass dates back at least to the Karginsky interglacial, a period between 39,000 and 22,000 years ago, when the climate in Siberia was warmer than today.
The cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) is a prehistoric species or subspecies that lived in Eurasia in the Middle and Late Pleistocene period and became extinct about 20,000 years ago. Cave bear remains are common in the fossil record. Individuals who failed to survive hibernation left behind millions of bones in caves throughout Europe and Asia. Thought to have inspired legends of dragons that lived in caves, the bones were so numerous that they were occasionally mined as a source of phosphate.
However, the now discovered carcass thawing out from the permafrost – perennially frozen soil – is completely preserved, with all internal organs still in place.
The cave bear was larger than the largest Kodiak brown bears (Ursus arctos) today. Despite its size, analysis of teeth abrasions and chemical composition suggest that the species was a strict vegetarian.
This strict diet preference contributed to the species demise. Genetic evidence suggests that the species extinction occurred after a prolonged period of population decline. The cause is likely to have been a combination of a change in the climate affecting the nutritious vegetation the cave bear needed as well as an increase in pressure from Palaeolithic hunters.