As the permafrost continues to melt away due to Earth’s changing climate, archaeologists have been discovering more and more species buried in the Siberian permafrost. Last year, they found a mummified wolf-dog which they named “Dogor.” The researchers said that it died about 18,000 years ago and had lived during “a very interesting time in terms of wolf and dog evolution.” This year, they found another ancient animal from the Siberian permafrost: a 46,000-year-old bird.
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In a study published in the journal Communications Biology, the ancient bird was identified as a horned lark (Eremophila alpestris) which was found 23 feet below ground inside a Siberian ice tunnel. The bird had been frozen since the last Ice Age and had its feathers and talons intact. It was discovered by local fossil hunters near the village of Belaya Gora in northeastern Siberia. Scientists reported that this is the first known wholly intact bird specimen ever dug up in the Siberian permafrost.
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The researchers believe that it could be a prehistoric predecessor to two subspecies alive today: the horned larks in the Mongolian steppe and those living in northern Russia.“This finding implies that the climatic changes that took place at the end of the last Ice Age led to the formation of new subspecies,” Love Dalén, an expert in evolutionary genetics from the Swedish Museum of Natural History and part of the research team that examined the ancient bird, said.
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The discovery will not only provide researchers with a better understanding of the animal’s evolution but also allow them to study the evolution of ice age fauna. According to All That’s Interesting, a site for curious people who want to know more about what they see on the news or read in history books, the frozen layers of the Siberian permafrost provided an ideal condition for the bird to remain intact after tens of thousands of years.
“The fact that such a small and fragile specimen was near intact also suggests that dirt or mud must have been deposited gradually, or at least that the ground was relatively stable so that the bird’s carcass was preserved in a state very close to its time of death,” Nicolas Dussex, a co-author of the study, added.