Gold diggers in Canada are finding a lot of exciting things

A little wolf cub who could have fallen asleep barely an hour ago. Giant beavers and a scary relative of the saber-toothed tiger. As the climate warms, gold diggers in Canada are finding a lot of strange things.

Permafrost is when the ground has been frozen for many consecutive years.

In some places in the north of the globe, there has been ice in the ground below us since the ice ages several thousand years ago.

In Norway, permafrost is present in parts of Finnmark and Troms. Permanent frost on the ground is also found in some places in the high mountains of southern Norway. Svalbard still has a lot of permafrost.

Found in the Klondike

But in the northernmost part of the globe, the warming of the air and the ground is now extremely rapid.

Both in Siberia in Russia and in northern Canada, many exciting things happen when permafrost thaws.

Researchers have found that it’s been 57,000 years since the little wolf fell asleep at the Klondike site in the Yukon region of northern Canada.

Here in the Klondike, people have been looking for gold for many years. “Klondike” has actually become a term that tells us that many are doing something at the same time to try to get rich.

Ulvejenta Zhur

The wolf named Zhùr looks like she’s lying down to take a nap. Zhùr means “wolf” in the local Klondike Native American language.

Gold digger Neil Loveless found the wolf. At first he thought it was a puppy. Klondike gold diggers are now collaborating with researchers to find other very ancient animals in the permafrost.

Zhùr is a gray wolf. The same goes for the wolves we have in Norway.

The Ice Age wolf is more related to the wolves found in Norway and Sweden today than it is to the wolves found in Canada now. Researchers find this interesting.

The researchers investigated what the wolf ate before it died. They didn’t find it to be musk meat or buffalo meat, as they thought.

Zhùr had eaten fish.

Zhùr died neither of starvation nor of anyone who attacked him.

The wolf cub likely died when the wolf cave the parents may have created collapsed on top of it, researchers say.

Permafrost is a freezer

It was cold in the Ice Age.

But in the Yukon region of northern Canada, near the border with Alaska, it was so dry that there was not enough water for a glacier to cover the ground. Thus, many animals could live in this arctic landscape.

The good thing about permafrost is that it works like a freezer.

The remains of animals, humans and other things can be preserved almost perfectly. So today’s researchers can find out both what the animals lived on and how they died.

Zhùr is therefore far from being the only very ancient animal that the Klondike gold diggers have found.

The giant beaver was bigger than a human.  The Klondike skeleton, with huge teeth, probably makes many people think of a predator.  But the giant beaver preferred to eat aquatic plants.  The giant beaver is extinct.  Perhaps it was overtaken by today's beavers, which specialize in felling large trees and eating the bark.

The giant beaver was bigger than a human. The Klondike skeleton, with huge teeth, probably makes many people think of a predator. But the giant beaver preferred to eat aquatic plants. The giant beaver is extinct. Perhaps it was overtaken by today’s beavers, which specialize in felling large trees and eating the bark.

The giant cat’s homotherium

Ten years ago, gold diggers in the Yukon also found the remains of an extinct feline named Homotherium in Latin.

It is a relative of the more famous saber-toothed tiger.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark were tasked with examining the well-preserved predator, which could likely run at 90 kilometers per hour.

They discovered that the Yukon Cat was 47,000 years old.

Based on the genetic material (genes) of the animal, Danish researchers were able to establish that these cats and other cats became different from each other 22 million years ago.

The Homotherium feline may have been a dangerous hunter.  He hunted in droves.

The Homotherium feline may have been a dangerous hunter. He hunted in droves.

Sources:

  • Smithsonian magazine: “Five Fascinating Ice Age Finds Unearthed in Yukon Permafrost”, February 2022.
  • “A deadly long-range hunter: DNA study reveals information about the scimitar-toothed cat”, University of Copenhagen press release, October 2020.
  • Radio Canada: “‘A Bit Unbelievable’: Researchers Reveal Details of Mummified Ice Age Cub Found in Yukon”, December 2020

Alec Dittman

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