by David Kindy/Smithsonianmag.com
The video shows scientists examining a dead lion cub. They take hair samples from the tiny corpse, which looks like it might have died only a few days ago. In fact, it has been deceased for nearly 30 millennia—covered in permafrost in Siberia until recently.
Sparta, as this female cave lion is called, is estimated to be 27,962 years old, according to a study published this month in the journal Quarternary. It may be the most well-preserved specimen ever found—so intact that she still has whiskers, reports Carly Cassella of ScienceAlert. Sparta was likely one or two months old at the time of death.
Scientists found this Ice Age cave lion (panthera spelaea) and another less-intact cub named Boris, estimated to be 43,448 years old, at a dig site near the Senyalyakh River in eastern Siberia above the Arctic Circle. Larger than African lions, the species lived in colder climates across Eurasia until going extinct about 10,000 years ago, reports Tim Fitzsimmons of NBC News.
“To my knowledge, this is the best-preserved frozen specimen from the last Ice Age ever found,” study author Love Dalén, an evolutionary geneticist Stockholm University’s Centre for Palaeogenetics, tells NBC News. “Sparta is in near-perfect condition.”