Researchers unearthed a nearly perfectly preserved brown bear in Siberia after the body lay untouched for 3,500 years in the frozen wilderness.
The astounding corpse was first discovered by reindeer herders, who stumbled across the frozen bear while traveling across a desolate island in the Arctic. Scientists then performed a necropsy, an examination to determine the cause of death, to learn more about the ancient predator.
“This find is absolutely unique: the complete carcass of an ancient brown bear,” said Maxim Cheprasov, laboratory chief at the Lazarev Mammoth Museum Laboratory at the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, eastern Siberia, per Reuters.
The reindeer herders discovered the female bear back in 2020, its body protruding from the permafrost on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island. Around half the size of Hawaii’s Big Island, Bolshoy is the largest of the Lyakhovsky Islands making up the New Siberian Islands archipelago just under 3,000 miles east of the Russian capital of Moscow.
Scientists dubbed the fascinating creature the Etherican brown bear, due to its 3,500-year resting place east of the Bolshoy Etherican River.
Typically, a corpse would have been long-decomposed after thousands of years, especially one exposed to the elements. Thanks to the brutal temperatures of Siberia, however, the brown bear’s soft tissue remained. It was so well-preserved, in fact, that even remnants of its final meals, consisting of bird feathers and plants, remained in its stomach.
Scientists Discover Ancient Brown Bear Was Similar to Modern Descendants
Through their examination, scientists discovered the bear stood around 5 feet tall, tipping the scales at over 170 pounds. “For the first time, a carcass with soft tissues has fallen into the hands of scientists, giving us the opportunity to study the internal organs and examine the brain,” Cheprasov said.
The bear’s relatively pristine condition allowed Siberian scientists to examine its brain and internal organs after cutting through its thick hide. They also conducted a number of cellular, microbiological, virological, and genetic tests. After thousands of years, the brown bear’s pink tissue and yellow fat remained clearly visible.
Following their tests on its soft tissues and organs, scientists sawed through the bear’s skull. Using a vacuum cleaner, they cleared away the resulting bone dust before pulling its brain from its body.
Interestingly, this test revealed that the ancient brown bear wasn’t that far from its modern descendants, genetically speaking. “Genetic analysis has shown that the bear does not differ in mitochondrial DNA from the modern bear from the north-east of Russia — Yakutia and Chukotka,” Cheprasov said.
The bear was approximately 2-3 years old at the time of its death. Scientists reported it died as a result of a brutal injury to its spinal column. How the bear came to the island, however, remains a mystery. While it might have crossed over ice, it could have also swum over. Another possibility is that the island was still part of the mainland 3,000 years ago.