A worker for a mining company in the Yukon made a major discovery while digging in the permafrost: the remarkably well-preserved body of a baby woolly mammoth.
Experts believe that the woolly mammoth, unearthed in the Klondike gold fields of Yukon of Canada, had been preserved in the frozen ground for more than 30,000 years.
Travis Mudry was operating an excavator and digging through the permafrost in the Klondike gold fields of Yukon in Canada about a half-hour before his lunch break on June 1. He was scratching at a frozen wall of earth. A big chunk came out of the room. Along with it was a body of a baby woolly mammoth, frozen and preserved with its hair and hide. I thought it was a baby buffalo in the beginning, said Mudry, 31, of Alberta. I got out, and I was inspecting it, and it had a trunk, so I had no words. It is in front of us glistening in the sun and looks like it just died, said McCaughan, 57, of the discovery made on June 21. It was crazy. He compared its size to that of a white-tailed deer. McCaughan said that unearthing bones, even from mammoths, was commonplace during mining, but that this discovery was something incomparable. He said that it feels like we got rewarded by Mother Earth when you pull something like this out of the ground. Experts believe that the mammoth was just over a month old when it perished in mud. Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for the Yukon Government, said it was captured in time, encased in the frozen layer of ground known as permafrost, during the ice age more than 30,000 years ago.
He said the baby mammoth was about 140 centimeters from the base of its tail to the base of its trunk, which is a little more than four and a half feet. His body was broken in half, possibly by the excavator or by natural forces over time, but he said it was complete from tip to tail. He said it might be the best preserved specimen found in North America and could surpass Lyuba, a female woolly mammoth calf found in Siberia in 2017 almost intact, but missing a tail. Woolly mammoths, ancestors to modern elephants, once traversed the Northern Hemisphere. They disappeared about 10,000 years ago because of excessive hunting and climate change. Mammoths were abundant in the Yukon's ancient past, said Joshua H. Miller, a paleontologist and professor at the University of Cincinnati. Today, the territory has a magnificent fossil record of prehistoric animals, including steppe bison, ancient cats and short-faced bears, according to Mr. Miller, adding that mining had contributed to the wealth of discoveries. Most bones were not mummies.
There is also a profound meaning for the Tr ond k Hw ch in people, the Yukon First Nation whose territory the mammoth died in, Mr. Zazula said. He believes that this is an opportunity for healing for the nation, which has had a century of conflict with gold rush prospectors. According to a news release last week, Tr ond k Hw ch in elders gave the mammoth the name Nun cho ga, a big baby animal in the H n language. Roberta Joseph, the Tr ond k Hw ch in chief, said in a statement that the First Nation looked forward to working with the Yukon government on the next steps in the process to move forward with these remains in a way that honors our traditions, culture and laws. Nun cho ga is awaiting further analysis in a freezer in the Yukon, several hours from the mine where it was found. There was no rush while studying the mammoth, as it will reveal incredible details about the ancient past, even what its last meal was, according to Zazula. He said that the First Nation, the Yukon government, scientists and miners are embarking on a journey of cultural and scientific discovery.