Story at a glance

  • A study details the discovery of two mummified baby cave lions in the Siberian Arctic by local mammoth tusk collectors in 2017 and 2018.
  • One female cub nicknamed “Sparta” dates back about 28,000 years ago while “Boris,” a male, is more than 43,000 years old, according to radiocarbon dating.
  • The study details how Sparta was preserved in permafrost in near-perfect condition.

Researchers say a cave lion cub believed to be the best preserved ice age animal ever discovered dates back to more than 28,000 years ago. 

A study published in the journal Quaternary details the discovery of two mummified baby cave lions in the Siberian Arctic by local mammoth tusk collectors in 2017 and 2018. The extinct cave lions were widely spread throughout eastern Siberia in the late Pleistocene period and were a bigger relative of the African lions that live today. 

Researchers initially thought the two cubs, believed to be 1 or 2 months old when they died, were siblings as they were discovered just dozens of feet from one another. But the new study found they differ in age by around 15,000 years. 

One female cub nicknamed “Sparta” dates back about 28,000 years ago while “Boris,” a male, is more than 43,000 years old, according to radiocarbon dating. 


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The study details how Sparta was preserved in permafrost in near-perfect condition. The cub’s fur is mostly intact, along with her teeth, skin, soft tissue and organs. 

“Sparta is an incredibly well-preserved animal, and it's amazing to think that she belonged to a species of large carnivore that has been extinct for more than 10,000 years," Love Dalen, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Centre for Paleogenetics in Stockholm and author of the study, told Changing America.

Boris was a bit more damaged but was still well preserved. 

Given the specimen's preservation, the study says the two cave lions must have been buried very quickly, and maybe died in a mudslide or fell into a crack in the permafrost. 

Researchers found that the coat of the cave lions was much like that of the modern African lion cub, but with a long thick fur undercoat that likely helped them adapt to the harsh conditions of the region. 


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Published on Aug 05, 2021