Scientists are investigating whether a giant, 40,000-year-old wolf’s head found perfectly preserved beneath Siberian permafrost could have been chopped off by hunters.
The severed head was found above the Arctic Circle by local man Pavel Efimov a year ago, but was only announced by researchers studying the Ice Age mammal last week.
They are now trying to find out whether the massive animal was beheaded by expanding ice or had its head cut off by ancient Man, according to the Siberian Times. The latter would be a major surprise, since humans not believed to have populated the northern area of icy Yakutia at the time.
“Our suggestion is that the head was separated by ice,” Russian scientist Dr. Albert Protopopov told the newspaper. “There are characteristic traces on the soft tissues, presumably left while the tissue was fresh or even alive.
“The effect is like an ax or sharp big knife.
“But we do not exclude that it could have been cut artificially ... a meticulous study is needed.”
The cut to the animal’s neck is not typical of a severing by ice — it is less smooth, said Dr. Protopopov, from the Academy of Sciences of Sakha Republic.
Researchers are now planning another expedition to see if they can find other parts of body near where the first discovery was made.
The snarling head, found with its teeth bared and brain intact, is almost 40cm in length — much larger than the average 25cm head length of a contemporary Siberian Gray wolf.
It is smaller than modern Arctic wolves, however.
The predator has a thick “mammoth-like” coat and impressive fangs, and parts of its skull appear to be more developed than that of wolves today.
“This is a unique discovery of the first-ever remains of a fully grown Pleistocene wolf with its tissue preserved,” Dr. Protopopov told the Siberian Times. “We will be comparing it to modern-day wolves to understand how the species has evolved and to reconstruct its appearance.”
The wolf’s DNA will be examined by scientists at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, after the discovery was announced in Tokyo at an exhibition showcasing the discovery of frozen animals.
“Their muscles, organs and brains are in good condition,” said Naoki Suzuki, a professor of paleontology and medicine with the Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo. The team took CAT scans of the ancient remains.
“We want to assess their physical capabilities and ecology by comparing them with the lions and wolves of today.”
The frozen wolf’s head, discovered last year, was found about the same time as a “perfectly preserved” lion cave cub. The cub was estimated to be between 20,000-50,000 years old.
The two incredible discoveries were displayed together at the Tokyo exhibition.
This story originally appeared in news.com.au.