Surprisingly well-preserved body of prehistoric young horse found in Siberian permafrost

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In the melting permafrost of Siberia, archaeologists have discovered the surprisingly well-preserved body of a young horse, thought to have died around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. Thanks to the freezing conditions of the permafrost, the prehistoric animal’s tail, hooves and even the vibrissae (tiny hairs around the nostrils) and feathering (hair around the hooves) are still intact.

The mummified remains of the foal were found by a team of paleontologists inside the Batagaika crater, which is a 328-foot (100-meter-deep) thermokarst depression in the East Siberian taiga, in Russia’s Sakha Republic (also known as Yakutia). The crater is located about 10 km from the urban locality of Batagay and nearly 660 km northeast of Yakutsk, the capital city of Sakha Republic.

It was during a mission to Yakutia that the researchers uncovered the undamaged body of the young animal. Analysis of the remains has revealed that the horse was only two months old at the time of its death and may have died as a result of drowning after getting entangled in “some kind of natural trap”, as per Grigory Savvinov, the deputy head of the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk.   

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Measuring around 98 centimeters (39 inches) in height, the prehistoric equine belonged to a now-extinct species that inhabited the region somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago. Scientifically known as Equus caballus lenensis (or the Lena horse), the species was genetically different from the wild horses that currently roam Yakutia, according to the researchers.

During the archaeological mission, the team retrieved samples of the horse’s tissue and hair for further testing. Additionally, they are hoping to examine the contents of the animal’s bowels, in order to determine its diet, announced Semyon Grigoryev, the director of Yakutsk’s Mammoth Museum.

Siberia: An Archaeological Treasure Trove

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Permafrost, essentially, refers to ground (rock or soil) that is at or below the freezing temperature of water (0°C) for two or more years. The icy conditions of the permafrost, in turn, aid in the process of natural mummification. Historically, natural mummification has generally been the result of lack of environmental oxygen, extreme cold or arid conditions.

Discovered quite accidentally by a group of hikers in 1991 in the Oetztal Alps (in modern-day north Italy), Ötzi the Iceman, for instance, had been entombed underneath an alpine glacier for nearly 5,300 years. Interestingly, a research done in 2015 also established how Ötzi (or Oetzi) is the oldest known tattooed human in history, with as many as 61 markings spread across 19 parts of his well-preserved body. More recently, researchers reconstructed a ‘fairly reliable approximation’ of the Iceman’s voice in accordance to the vocal components of the mummy.

The Siberian permafrost, in particular, holds a treasure trove of animal and human remains from several thousand years ago. Apart from the young horse, in August last year, researchers unearthed the eerie profile of a 12th century AD female corpse head, buried in a snugly-woven cocoon of copper and fur. Theorized to be a member of a medieval fishing and hunting community in the northern part of Siberia, she is the only known adult female who was interred at the major burial ground corresponding to the Zeleny Yar archaeological site near Salekhard.

And beyond just her gender, the collaborative team of Russian and South Korean researchers was baffled by the remarkable preservation of the head – that was a consequence of an unintentional mummification process brought on by the local permafrost condition and the aforementioned copper-reinforced ‘cocoon’.

Most recently, in June this year, archaeological investigation in the southern part of Siberia brought to light the mummified remains of a woman, buried in silk and surrounded by riches. Discovered on the bank of the Yenisei River upstream of the gigantic Sayano-Shushenskaya dam, near the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk, the grave remained untouched on account of being underwater for several decades.

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Source/Image Credits: Live Science

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About the Author

Sukanya Mukherjee
With a master's degree in English Literature and several years of writing experience under her belt, Sukanya specializes in creating content particularly related to history, science, and technology. In the past, she worked as a business journalist at a reputable digital media company. Apart from being an avid fan of Victorian literature, she can found spending her free time baking and exploring the Great Himalayas!
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