A near-perfectly mummified baby woolly mammoth — thought to be more than 30,000 years old — has been accidentally unearthed by a gold miner in Yukon, north-west Canada.
It marks the most significant and well-preserved discovery of a woolly mammoth in North America’s history, with a partial mammoth calf named Effie found at an Alaskan gold mine in 1948.
The mummified animal was last week dug out of permafrost in the Klondike goldfields before receiving a blessing from elders of the first nation group, Trʼondëk Hwëchʼi.
Named Nun cho ga, which means “big baby animal” in the Hän language, the young female mammoth was in amazing condition.
Yukon palaeontologist Dr Grant Zazula was thrilled with the discovery.
“As an Ice Age palaeontologist, it has been one of my lifelong dreams to come face to face with a real woolly mammoth. That dream came true today,” he said
“Nun cho ga is beautiful and one of the most incredible mummified Ice Age animals ever discovered in the world. I am excited to get to know her more.”
Dr Zazula said Nun cho ga — measuring just 140 centimetres in length — was only between 30 and 35 days old when she died about 35,000 to 40,000 years ago.
In a statement, the government of Yukon and the Indigenous group Trʼondëk Hwëchʼi said that Nun cho ga would have roamed the Yukon with wild horses, cave lions and giant steppe bison.
Geologists from the Yukon Geological Survey and the University of Calgary suggested Nun cho ga died and was frozen in permafrost during the Ice Age, more than 30,000 years ago.
Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin Chief Roberta Joseph described the discovery as “remarkable”.
“We look forward to collaborating with the Yukon government on the next steps in the process for moving forward with these remains in a way that honours our traditions, culture and laws,” he said.
“We are thankful for the elders who have been guiding us so far and the name they provided.
“We are committed to respectfully handling Nun cho ga as she has chosen now to reveal herself to all of us.”
The government of Yukon said the region was renowned for its recovery of fossils, but mummified remains with skin and hair were a rare find.