18,000-year-old puppy found remarkably preserved in permafrost

The dog or wolf puppy, discovered last year in Russia, is unusually well-preserved, with its hair, teeth, whiskers and eyelashes still intact.

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By Associated Press

YAKUTSK, Russia — Russian scientists have shown off a prehistoric dog or wolf puppy, thought to be 18,000 years old, found in permafrost in the country's Far East.

Discovered last year in a lump of frozen mud near the city of Yakutsk, the puppy is unusually well-preserved, with its hair, teeth, whiskers and eyelashes still intact.

"This puppy has all its limbs, pelage — fur, even whiskers. The nose is visible. There are teeth. We can determine due to some data that it is a male," Nikolai Androsov, director of the Northern World private museum where the remains are stored, said Monday at Yakutsk's Mammoth Museum, which specializes in ancient specimens.

Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Stockholm-based Center for Palaeogenetics, which took a piece of the puppy's bone to study its DNA, said it still couldn't be determined whether the puppy was that of a dog or a wolf.

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"That makes it even more interesting," Dalén said.

In recent years, Russia's Far East has provided many riches for scientists studying the remains of ancient animals. As the permafrost melts, affected by climate change, more and more parts of woolly mammoths, canines and other prehistoric animals are being discovered. Often it is mammoth tusk hunters who discover them.

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"Why has Yakutia come through a real spate of such unique findings over the last decade? First, it's global warming," Sergei Fyodorov, a scientist at North Eastern Federal University, told The Associated Press. "It really exists, we feel it, and local people feel it strongly. Winter comes later. Spring comes earlier."

The Center for Palaeogenetics has been studying the puppy's DNA for more than year. Further tests have left scientists with more questions than answers.

"The first step was, of course, to send the sample to radiocarbon dating to see how old it was, and when we got the results back, it turned out that it was roughly 18,000 years old," Dalén said in an online interview.

"We have now generated a nearly complete genome sequence from it, and normally when you have a two-fold coverage genome, which is what we have, you should be able to relatively easily say whether it's a dog or a wolf, but we still can't say and that makes it even more interesting," Dalén said.

He said scientists planned to conduct a third round of genome sequencing, which might solve the mystery.