A brown bear that was almost perfectly preserved in the frozen forests of eastern Siberia for 3,500 years has been autopsied by a team of scientists after it was discovered by reindeer herders on a desolate island in the Arctic.
“This find is absolutely unique: the complete carcass of an ancient brown bear,” said Maxim Cheprasov, laboratory chief of the Lazarev Mammoth Museum Laboratory at the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, eastern Siberia.
The female bear was found in 2020 by reindeer herders digging out of permafrost on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island, part of the New Siberian Archipelago, about 2,900 miles east of Moscow.
Because it was found just east of the Bolshoy Ethrikon River, it is named the Ethrikon brown bear.
The extreme temperatures helped preserve the bear’s soft tissues for 3,460 years, as well as its last remains – bird feathers and plants. The bear is said to be about 5 feet tall and weigh about 172 pounds.
“For the first time, a corpse with soft tissues fell into the hands of scientists, which gave us the opportunity to study internal organs and examine the brain,” Cheprasov said.
The scientific team in Siberia dissected the bear’s tough skin, allowing scientists to examine its brain, internal organs, and conduct cellular, microbiological, virological and genetic studies.
When the team analyzed the ancient animal, the bear’s pink tissue and yellow fat were clearly visible.
They sawed through its skull, using a vacuum cleaner to suck up the bone dust of the skull before extracting its brain.
“The genetic analysis showed that the bear does not differ in mitochondrial DNA from modern bears from the north-east of Russia – Yakutia and Chukotka,” Cheprasov said.
He told that the age of the bear could be about two-three years. He died of injuries to his spinal cord.
However, it is unclear how the bear came to be on the island, which is now divided from the mainland by a 31-mile strait. It may have crossed the ice, it may have floated away, or the island may have still been part of the mainland.
The Lyakhovsky Islands contain some of the richest Palaeolithic treasures in the world, attracting both woolly mammoth hunting scientists and ivory traders.