A severed head of a wolf estimated to have died between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago was discovered in Eastern Siberia last year, giving scientists a rare opportunity to analyze wolf genealogy and evolution.
Local resident Pavel Efimov found the well-preserved head of the world’s first full-sized Pleistocen wolf in the permafrost near the Tirekhtyakh River in the Abyisky district located north of the city of Yakutia last summer. Because the beast's fur and fangs are still intact, researchers at the University of Sweden are able to analyze tissue from the wolf, something that's usually not preserved in the fossil record.
“This discovery is amazing,” Julie Meachen, a vertebrate paleontologist and an associate professor at Des Moines University, said in an email to Gizmodo. “It made me want to go to Siberia and look for more Ice Age specimens. It looks like it died yesterday! We’ve never seen an Ice Age wolf in the flesh before and this is a huge specimen.”
A modern wolf’s head is usually between 9 and 11 inches long, but this specimen measured 15.7 inches in length. The large creature was between two and four years old when it perished, according to The Siberian Times.
"This is a unique discovery of the first ever remains of a fully grown Pleistocene wolf with its tissue preserved," Albert Protopopov, director of the mammoth studies department at the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha told the newspaper. "We will be comparing it to modern-day wolves to understand how the species has evolved and to reconstruct its appearance."
Protopopov estimated the preserved head is more than 40,000 years old. Two other scientists involved in the project, Love Dalén from the Swedish Museum of Natural History and Valeri Plotniknov from the Yakutia Academy of Sciences, estimated the animal lived closer to 30,000 years ago.