Researchers report the discovery of a bird frozen in Siberian permafrost for at least 46,000 years. And it is in perfect condition.
In Yakoutia, a territory in northern Siberia about five times larger than France, jobs are scarce. It is also impossible to grow anything there. This is why many are turning to mammoths. During the last ice age, there were indeed thousands to trample these lands, and many of their defenses still litter the ground. “Gold” for the locals, since the ivory of these missing giants can sell for more than 1,000 euros per kilo.
In recent years, a “mammoth rush” has therefore finally democratized in the region. But sometimes, during their ivory hunt, lakoutes (or Yakoutes) fall on other animals. This was the case recently.
An Ice Age bird
A few weeks ago, hunters fell on a completely frozen bird in the permafrost. The latter then transmitted the specimen to researchers at the Center for Palaeogenetics, in Sweden, who then carried out analyzes. A radiocarbon dating finally made it possible to assess that this strange bird died between 44,000 and 49,000 years ago!
The conditions found in Siberian permafrost allow the perfect conservation of living organisms. Here the temperatures are constantly below freezing, which prevents the bacterial and fungal proliferation responsible for the decomposition of the bodies, but it is not cold enough to damage the tissues either.
We still have proof with this bird which, 46,000 years later, still has its feathers, claws, skin and soft tissue intact.
I have literally not tweeted in c. 30,000 years!
I have been frozen in permafrost since the last Ice Age, and was just found at 7 meter's depth, 200 meters inside an ice tunnel in Siberia.
Not sure what species I am. Any ideas, Twitter? pic.twitter.com/kXO3CBeyYF
— Love Dalén (@love_dalen) September 10, 2018
An old lark
The researchers also managed to extract some of its DNA. Enough to understand that it was an ancient species of passerine called Eremophila alpestris. It could also be an ancestor of two subspecies of skylark found today in northern Russia and Mongolia. To be sure, researchers will however have to fully sequence its genome.
Nicolas Dussex, of the Center for Palaeogenetics and lead author of the study, also points out that this specimen could be the very first bird of the ice age found frozen. This type of discovery is indeed very rare, for two reasons.
“The first is that the passerines are quite small and fragile … it is therefore more difficult to find the remains of these intact birds under several meters deep,” explains the researcher. And secondly, it may be that some people who have come across such remains have finally thought that the bird had died recently, when it was actually an ancient specimen. “
As a reminder, last year, in the same region, a team of researchers announced the incredible discovery of a wolf’s head, cut up, kept frozen in permafrost for 40,000 years. Last November, an 18,000 year old canine was also found. However, at the moment, we do not know if it is a dog or a wolf.