Perfectly preserved, 35,000-year-old baby woolly mammoth found in Yukon

Story by CBC Kids News • 2022-07-15 05:59

1st ever found in North America


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Imagine you’re a miner working inside a cave in Northern Canada, when your front-end loader hits something hard.

You look down and see something that looks like a skeleton.

So, you call your boss over, who then calls a scientist to investigate.

Soon, you’re told you’ve found the frozen body of one of the biggest beasts to ever roam the planet, one that lived long before the pyramids ever existed.

That’s exactly what happened to a young gold miner from Treadstone Mining who came across the frozen, fossilized body of a baby woolly mammoth.

That big discovery happened on June 21 in Eureka Creek, Yukon.

It is the second baby woolly mammoth ever to be found, and scientists are raving about what it could mean for their studies.

Yukon paleontologist Dr. Grant Zazula said “it might be the most important discovery in paleontology in North America,” he told CBC.

How scientists discovered the object was a baby woolly mammoth

After the frozen mammoth was dug up, an employee at Treadstone Mining sent a photo of it to Zazula.

Paleontologists are scientists who use fossils to study past life on Earth.

A sculpture of an adult woolly mammoth by artist Halin de Repentigny was on display in Dawson City, Yukon, in 2020. Scientists still disagree whether humans, hotter temperatures or a combination caused the extinction of larger animals like mammoths. (Image Credit: Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

When Zazula received the photo, he said he was shocked.

“I don't know how to process it all right now, to be honest with you. It's amazing," he said in an interview with CBC News.

"She has a trunk. She has a tail. She has tiny little ears. She has the little prehensile end of the trunk where she could use it to grab grass.”

Later that day, two geologists from the Yukon Geological Survey and the University of Calgary came to the site and measured the mammoth at 140 centimetres.

That’s about the same size as “Lyuba,” another baby woolly mammoth who was found in Siberia, Russia, in 2007.

The baby woolly mammoth was found here at Treadstone Mine in Eureka Creek, Yukon. It’s believed to be the second one ever found in the world. (Image Credit: Klondike Placer Miners’ Association)

Zazula and the other scientists who examined the discovery believe the mammoth was about 30 to 35 days old when it died. They estimate it was sometime between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago.

Geologists found a piece of grass in the mammoth’s intestines, suggesting that it was eating directly before it died.

Zazula believes it may have left its cave to find food, only to get stuck in the mud when it died, creating the perfect conditions for preservation.

Mammoth was blessed and named by a local Indigenous group

The Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation is the owner and keeper of the land where the baby woolly mammoth was found.

After the mammoth was analyzed by scientists, it was brought to a nearby location where a ceremony between scientists and people from the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin community took place.

The elders named the baby mammoth Nun cho ga, which means "big baby animal" in the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin's Hän language. (Image credit: Yukon government)

Led by Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in’s elders, members of the community as well as scientists, miners and politicians gathered in a circle and prayed as the baby woolly mammoth was revealed from a tarp.

Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in elder Peggy Kormendy said it took her breath away.

"We must all treat it with respect,” said Kormendy in an interview with CBC News

“When that happens, it is going to be powerful and we will heal.”

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With files from Sebastian Leck/CBC and Michel Proulx/CBC

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