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57,000-year-old wolf mummy found frozen in Canada, researchers study ancient pup's life

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 12/21/2020 Samantha Hernandez, Des Moines Register
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DES MOINES — A 57,000-year-old wolf mummy named Zhùr has researchers writing about the mysteries of her short puppy life

The wolf pup was found perfectly preserved in permafrost in Yukon, Canada, according to a news release from Des Moines University. The pup was named Zhùr, meaning ‘wolf’ in the Hän language, by the local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people. The team's findings were published Monday in the journal Current Biology.

"She was found in the summer of 2016, in July, by a gold miner in the Yukon. They mine for gold by shooting a water cannon at these giant permafrost cliffs. Instead of gold falling out, this little frozen puppy fell out," said Julie Meachen, an associate professor of anatomy at Des Moines University. Meachen served as the lead author on the paper and co-lead researcher on the wolf mummy project. 

A Des Moines University associate professor was among a team researchers who co-authored a paper on a wolf mummy found in the Yukon, Canada. © Courtesy of Des Moines University A Des Moines University associate professor was among a team researchers who co-authored a paper on a wolf mummy found in the Yukon, Canada.

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Researchers from the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre and University of California Santa Cruz also contributed to studying the 57,000-year-old wolf mummy.

"She is the most complete and the oldest mummy of a wolf that has ever been found," Meachen said. "It's really rare, actually, to have these kind of mummies in North America. They're much more common from Siberia."

The approximately seven-week-old pup is believed to have died when her den collapsed and she was essentially "freeze dried," Meachen explained.   

An analysis of the pup's genome showed she was descended "from ancient wolves from Russia, Siberia, and Alaska, who are the ancestors of modern wolves as well," the release states. Researchers also learned the pup's diet included fish.

"The specimen holds special significance for the local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people, who have agreed to place Zhùr on display at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre in Whitehorse," the news release said.

It's every paleontologist's dream to study a mummy as complete as Zhùr. 

"I mean, upon seeing her, I was so floored by how beautifully preserved she is," Meachen said. 

Follow Samantha Hernandez on Twitter at @svhernandez.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: 57,000-year-old wolf mummy found frozen in Canada, researchers study ancient pup's life

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