Miner unexpectedly reveals ‘most important’ paleontological discovery in North America

Miner unexpectedly reveals ‘most important’ paleontological discovery in North America

A young miner called for backup when his front-end loader unexpectedly struck something in Canadian permafrost on the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere last week. About 107 miles east of the Alaskan border, in Yukon’s Eureka Creek, the miner, who was originally looking for gold, discovered an entire mummified baby woolly mammoth, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported:

Scientists hailed the find as one of the “most important” paleontological discoveries ever made on the continent of North America.

The miner’s supervisor immediately sent a photo of the woolly mammoth to Dr. Grant Zazula, the Yukon government paleontologist. Tuesday, June 21 was Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a legal holiday in Yukon, so when Zazula received the email, he rushed to find someone in Dawson City, just south of the creek, who could get to the site. going to recover the find.

In a race against inclement weather, a geologist from the Yukon Geological Survey and another from the University of Calgary were able to drive to the creek to salvage the baby woolly mammoth and do a full geological sampling of the site.

“And the amazing thing is, within an hour of getting there to do the work, the sky opened up, it turned black, lightning started to strike and the rain started pouring in,” Zazula told CBC. “So if she hadn’t recovered by then, she would have been lost in the storm.”

Scientists believe this baby woolly mammoth is “the most complete mummified mammoth found in North America,” according to one press release announce the discovery.

A mummified baby woolly mammoth found in Yukon’s Eureka Creek on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.

After a close examination, the baby woolly mammoth, named Nun cho ga, which means “large baby animal” in the Han language, was identified as a young female who was probably only a month old when she died nearly 30,000 years ago. Han is the language spoken by the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin, indigenous peoples who have lived on the land for thousands of years.

The two geologists who found the baby woolly mammoth found a patch of grass in her stomach, indicating that the young mammoth was spending its last minutes grazing on grass in an area once populated by wild horses, large bison and cave lions. The Guardian reported

The near-perfect state of the specimen’s preservation suggests that the baby woolly mammoth may have become trapped in the mud just steps from its mother before being frozen in the permafrost.

“And that event, from getting stuck in the mud to being buried, was very, very fast,” Zazula told the CBC.

Zazula said the young miner made the “most important discovery in paleontology in North America”. CBC reported† “She has a trunk. She has a tail. She has small ears. She has the small, graspable end of the trunk that she can use to grab the grass.”

According to the press release, Nun cho ga is about the same size as Lyuba, a 42,000-year-old baby mummy woolly mammoth discovered in Siberia in 2007. In 1948, another partial calf named “Effie” was unearthed in Alaska.

“As an Ice Age paleontologist, it has been one of my lifelong dreams to come face-to-face with a real woolly mammoth,” Zazula said. “That dream has come true today. Nun cho ga is beautiful and one of the most incredible ice age mummified animals ever discovered in the world. I am excited to get to know her better.”

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According to Reuters, members of Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin, scientists, government officials and Yukon miners participated in a ceremony after the discovery in which they prayed when a baby woolly mammoth was unveiled from a tarpaulin and blessed by the elders.

‘It is astonishing. I was breathless when they removed the tarpaulin. We should all treat it with respect,” said Elder Peggy Kormendy of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. “When that happens, it will be powerful and we will heal. We must as a people.”

According to National Geographic, woolly mammoths roamed the cold tundra of Europe, North America and Asia from about 300,000 years ago to about 10,000 years ago. Although their extinction is generally attributed to overhunting by humans, research from 2021 suggests that the species’ disappearance could be due in part to climate change.

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