The permafrost in Russia’s Arctic is starting to melt and reveal a layer of life that has been buried for millennia. Among the discoveries: an ice age puppy and its litter mate.
The pup is astonishingly well-preserved, a bit of incredible luck in itself that has allowed its fur, brain, and stomach contents to survive since the Pleistocene era 12,460 years ago, the Telegraph reported.
They’ve been christened the Tumat dogs, after a nearby village.
But these little pups could also answer an intriguing question that dog-people everywhere have always wondered: when did our fur-babies become man’s best friend?
The ice age puppy and its sibling were found in a remote region of the Arctic tundra in the northeast region of Russia called Yakutia. Sergei Fyodorov at the Mammoth Museum of the North-Eastern Federal in the regional capital, explained the significance of the find to Agence France-Presse.
“To find a carnivorous mammal intact with skin, fur and internal organs – this has never happened before in history … Our land is locked in by permafrost, but little by little it is revealing its secrets.”
— Maria Antonova (@mashant) March 28, 2016
Those secrets have already included a small wolverine and two lion cubs, as the Inquisitr previously reported. Back in 2011, two hunters were out looking for mammoth tusks when they found the ice age puppy’s snout poking from the melting permafrost. They called Fyodorov, who flew out to see it himself.
It’s not clear who these hunters were, but indigenous tribes are allowed to hunt for ancient remains on their ancestral lands.
Last year, Fyodorov returned and found a second pup further down the slope from the first one. Both died at three months old and were likely littermates. This most recent find is more well-preserved, as Sergei described: “from nose to tail, including the hair.” The puppies were likely killed in a landslide and were then mummified.
Stone tools and mammoth bones with signs that they’d been butchered and burned were also discovered nearby, suggesting that humans lived in the area and inspiring the interesting theory that the ice age puppy was a pet. So far, it’s not 100 percent clear whether it was wild or domesticated.
The second specimen has undergone a preliminary examination, in which its brain was removed. It was 70 to 80 percent intact, which is a world first because puppy bones are very thin and their skulls delicate. Dr. Pavel Nikolsky said the brain was dried out, but several areas were visible — the parencephalon, cerebellum, and pituitary gland.
“We can say that this is the first time we have obtained the brain of a Pleistocene canid.”
The ice age puppy has many examinations in its future. Its brain will compared to those of a modern wolf and dog. The bacteria in its stomach and parasitic ticks in its fur will be analyzed to learn about Siberian life in the Pleistocene.
They’ve already taken a look inside the ice age puppy’s tummy and found twigs and grass, which may reveal what they ate after being trapped by the mudslide.
So far, DNA analysis has revealed that the ice age puppy and its pack mate were dogs, and not wolves. But it will take a full sequencing of its genome to determine if it was wild or domesticated, and that won’t be completed for another year.
— BBC Newshour (@BBCNewshour) March 28, 2016
Scientists have long wondered when and where wolves became domesticated dogs and many theories have been put forward, none of them proven, United Press International added. They don’t know if they domesticated in one place, or several spots at the same time, or whether humans started the process by taking in cubs or wolves turned to humans for food at some point.
But scientists do know that dogs became human companions long before we even started to farm.
“Thus far, the lineages of wolves that likely gave rise to dogs have not yet been discovered and it’s possible that these puppies could be on that lineage, which would be very exciting,” said evolutionary biologist Greger Larson, of the University of Oxford. He’ll be working to figure out when and where dogs became “man’s best friend.”
So far, studies have indicated that dogs were tamed in Europe and the Middle East first. Others say it happened in Mongolia — near the ice age puppy permafrost grave. More recent study suggested Southeast Asia exclusively.
The ice age puppy may soon solve the mystery.
[Photo by Wolf Mountain Images/Shutterstock]