10,000-year-old lion cubs found frozen in Siberia offer link to distant past

The cubs were found in the Sakha-Yakutia region of Siberia, which has proved fertile ground for discoveries of mammals frozen in time during the last ice age period, tens of thousands of years ago.

Ivan Sekretarev/AP
Russian Geographic Society staff members carry the body of baby mammoth to put on display in Moscow last year. The 39,000-year-old baby mammoth is named Yuka, derived from the Yukagir coastline where she was found. Yuka was found five years ago in the Siberian permafrost and was between six and eleven years old when she died.

The farthest and coldest reaches of the world have turned up yet another pristinely preserved link to our distant path: Russian researchers say they’ve found two lion cubs in Siberia that could be the best preserved ever found.

The cubs were found in the Sakha-Yakutia region of Siberia, which has proved fertile ground for discoveries of mammals frozen in time during the last ice age period, tens of thousands of years ago. The cave lions are thought to be at least 10,000 years old, but could be much older, reports National Geographic.

“As far as I know, there has never been a prehistoric cat found with this level of preservation,” Des Moines University fossil expert Julie Meachen told National Geographic, “so this is truly an extraordinary find.”

These extinct cave lion cubs, Panthera leo spelaea, lived towards the middle or end of the Pleistocene times – which ended nearly 12,000 years ago – on the Eurasian continent, from Britain to the far east of Russia, reports the Siberian Times. The giant cats are relatives of the extinct American lion.

Though the researchers will release more detailed information about the cubs at a November 17 event, they’ve said that their find of the preserved animals this summer is significant because before it, only skulls, teeth and bones of the extinct species had been found.

A close evaluation of the two cubs could help explain why they were smaller than plant-eating animals and why they became extinct, since they had few predators and were not known to get swallowed up by swamps, like woolly mammoths and rhinos.

According to the Times, paleontologists suspect that a decline in the deer and cave bears they preyed on caused the Eurasian cave lions’ extinction.

Besides revealing more information about the two cubs, the November event will showcase other animals from the same time period that had been found in the region, preserved in ice. Among these will be the "Oimyakon" mammoth, the carcass of a Kolyma woolly rhinoceros, and Yukagir bison and horses, reported the Times.

There will also be the famous, 39,000-year-old baby woolly mammoth scientists named Yuka, found in 2010. Yuka's mummified brain is the only mostly intact mammoth brain known to science.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.