Puppies in Permafrost Stun Scientists
They say these dogs are 12,400 years old, but their organs and fur are intact, along with remains of their last meal.
Permafrost is thawing in Russia, and with it, astonishing discoveries of animals and plants from long ago. Siberia’s frozen mammoths are well known, but PhysOrg reports that the discovery of two exquisitely-preserved puppies is a first:
“To find a carnivorous mammal intact with skin, fur and internal organs—this has never happened before in history,” said Sergei Fyodorov, head of exhibitions at the Mammoth Museum of the North-Eastern Federal University in the regional capital of Yakutsk.
Be assured that this is not an April Fool prank. It’s been reported in Discovery News, Science Alert, and The Guardian. Well, maybe the latter’s headline “Bark to the Future” is over the line, along with suggestions the find will reveal something about “canine evolution,” but really: scientists are eagerly examining the remains, dubbed the “Tumat puppies” after the nearest village. They are hoping to do genomic testing and compare the dogs’ brains with those of modern dogs. The newly discovered specimen appears to be from the same litter as one found in 2011.
The most complete report with the most photos is in the Siberian Times, with a video clip of scientists holding and cleaning the specimen, chattering in Russian and English. Apparent butchering marks on some nearby mammoth bones, along with evidence of fire, suggest that humans were on the scene. Maybe these were domesticated dogs, at least partially.
Dates of 12,400 years are being assigned to the carcasses. Preservation of puppies is rare, the reports say, because they have thin bones and delicate skulls. What did it eat for its last meal? “When we opened it [the stomach], we were very surprised. The second puppy’s stomach is mostly full of twigs and grass,” Fyodorov said. He thinks “perhaps the animals were not exclusively carnivorous or whether they started eating grass after they were trapped by a mudslide and began to starve.”
“The fact that soft tissue is preserved will give much more information compared to information that can be obtained from ‘normal’ fossils,” she said [Mietje Germonpre, a palaeontologist from the Royal Belgian Institute, quoted by The Guardian].
The exceptionally warm weather is motivating local people to go deeper into the Siberian permafrost where excavation of mammoth tusks for sale is permitted. The tusks can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. They “are increasingly prized by Chinese carvers given trade bans on elephant ivory,” PhysOrg says. New discoveries have risen several-fold over the last few years, a researcher said, hinting that “Yakutia’s melting permafrost is likely to yield up even more treasures in the coming years.”
The Guardian quotes a researcher saying “Everyone understands that the tissue of mammoth fauna loses its structure with every passing second, even in the freezer.” Is it reasonable these remains are over 12,000 years old? Maybe a quarter of that time is plausible, but a lot of climate change could happen in 12,000 years, leading to rapid decay. In addition, the dogs would have had to be buried and frozen quickly to be so well preserved, and kept at a very low temperature year round. Whatever happened to the dogs, the mammoths and the other creatures caught frozen up there, it was a unique occurrence unlike anything known in our world today. A global cataclysm like a Flood seems the reasonable explanation.
The circulation of the Siberian Times exceeds that of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal combined. Gotcha! OK, we had to include at least one April Fool joke.