The head of the first full-sized Pleistocene wolf has been discovered in eastern Siberia — and it’s still intact.
Paleontologists believe the wolf, whose head had been preserved in permafrost for about 30,000 years, was fully grown at 2 to 4 years old when it died. A photo of the head shows it measures 15.7 inches long, which is notably bigger than the 9.1-to-11-inch length of the modern gray wolf’s head.
Scientists discovered in recent years that a close relative of modern-day wolves lived in the Northern Hemisphere during the last ice age, said Love Dalén, one of the paleontologists studying the wolf’s head. These Pleistocene steppe wolves come from a different evolutionary lineage than modern-day wolves, Dalén said, and were slightly larger with more robust jaw bones.
“There are numerous samples from them in terms of bones and teeth and so on, but this is the first frozen carcass from an adult wolf that has been found," Dalén, of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, said in an interview.
A man who lives in the Abyisky district of Yakutia discovered the head last year. Dalén said he and other scientists were filming a documentary there when a Russian who had been searching for mammoth tusks brought the wolf’s head to their camp.
Scientists recently announced the find at the opening of a woolly mammoth exhibit in Tokyo.
The Swedish Museum of Natural History plans to study the wolf’s DNA, fur and skull, Dalén said, with help from scientists in Japan, Russia, the United States and other nations. Some of them are creating a digital model of the brain and the skull’s interior, Albert Protopopov, of the Republic of Sakha Academy of Sciences, told CNN.
As global temperatures rise, Dalén said melting permafrost is causing more animal carcasses to surface. In this case, though, he said Siberian locals were excavating mammoth tusks by blasting away the permafrost.
A cave lion cub and a mammoth foot, among other fossils, also were found at the site.
Some of those other findings are equally or more exciting than the wolf’s head, Dalén said, but he is particularly looking forward to trying to use the wolf’s DNA to try to sequence the species’s genome. That project will take at least another year and a half, he said.
The Pleistocene Epoch stretched from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago and included the most recent ice age of global cooling. Large land mammals and birds, including mammoths, long-horned bison and saber-toothed cats, were prevalent.