Melting Permafrost Reveals Gnarly 30,000-Year-Old Baby Horse

“This is the first find in the world of a prehistoric horse of such a young age and with such an amazing level of preservation.”

|
Aug 24 2018, 4:04pm

Image: Michil Yakovlev/Siberian Times

Between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago, a foal was born in the northern Siberia, lived for around three months, and died of an unknown cause. Though its short life came to a sad end, the young horse has now earned an afterlife as one of the most immaculately preserved specimens of a prehistoric equine ever discovered.

Image: Michil Yakovlev/The Siberian Times

The foal’s remains were found this summer during a joint Russian-Japanese scientific expedition to Batagaika crater, which is an otherworldly thermokarst depression that looks like a kilometer-long scar on the Yakutian landscape. This feature began to form due to forestry activities in the 1960s, and continues to sink as climate change accelerates permafrost melt. Locals cast it as a “doorway to the underworld."

Image: The Siberian Times

While it’s definitely ominous that this area has collapsed due to human activities, it is also a boon to scientists like Semyon Grigoryev, head of the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk. Grigoryev is part of the team examining the intact foal, which belonged to an extinct species called the Lenskaya horse. Permafrost provides an excellent environment for preservation, as demonstrated by the fine details that are easily observable on this specimen—its mane, tail, hooves, and even its internal organs.

Image: Michil Yakovlev/The Siberian Times

“This is the first find in the world of a prehistoric horse of such a young age and with such an amazing level of preservation,” Grigoryev told the Siberian Times. “The extra value of the unique find is that we obtained samples of soil layers where it was preserved, which means we will be able to restore a picture of the foal’s environment.”

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.