This Bird Froze 46,000 Years Ago. Now, It Can Tell Scientists About the Last Ice Age

by Katherine J. Wu/

Around the tail end of the last ice age, a female horned lark flitted into a frosty cave and met a tragic end. Now, more than 45,000 years later, researchers studying its remarkable permafrost-preserved carcass are getting a rare glimpse into the ancient ecosystems that once speckled Siberia.

“It’s like entering a walk-in freezer and finding a thing that’s been stored for 45,000 years,” Nicolas Dussex, a zoologist at Stockholm University and the Swedish Museum of Natural History, tells Ryan F. Mandelbaum at Gizmodo. Dussex and his colleagues describe their findings in a paper published this month in the journal Communications Biology.

A group of fossil ivory hunters, who are legally permitted to excavate tunnels near the village of Belaya Gora in northeastern Siberia, found the frozen bird trapped several feet underground. In 2018, they contacted study author Jacquelyn Gill, a climate scientist at the University of Maine who had previously been involved in permafrost discoveries in the area. But the lark’s pristine state made it appear as though it had died very recently, causing Gill to dismiss it as a modern find at first, Gizmodo reports.

The fossil hunters insisted that the bird was, in fact, ancient, so Gill teamed up with …

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