Baby mammoth discovered in Yukon permafrost | Polarjournal
The mummified woolly mammoth baby “Nun cho ga” at the site where it was found at Treadstone Mine on Eureka Creek in Yukon, Canada. Photo: Government of Yukon

A find much more spectacular than gold: while digging in the permafrost in Canada’s Yukon on June 21, 2022, a prospector came across an almost complete, mummified baby of a woolly mammoth. Geologists believe the baby died more than 30,000 years ago during the Ice Age. The condition of the baby mammoth is sensational – thanks to preservation in permafrost, even the skin and hair are still intact.

It’s what people call beginner’s luck. Travis Mudry had just 30 days of mining experience in the Klondike gold fields on the territory of the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin and, according to a report by the mining company Treadstone Gold, was astonished when he saw not gold but eyes, skin and a trunk in the mud.

Travis Mudry discovered the nearly complete, mummified baby mammoth while working at Treadstone Mine. Photo: Treadstone Gold

Geologists from the Yukon Geological Service and the University of Calgary recovered the frozen baby mammoth in collaboration with the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin, the Yukon government and Treadstone Gold. They suspect it died during the Ice Age and was frozen in permafrost, preserving it almost perfectly. It is the first, nearly complete and best preserved mummified woolly mammoth ever found in North America. According to geologists, at 140 centimeters, the mammoth is about the same size as the 42,000-year-old “Lyuba” mammoth mummy discovered in Siberia in 2007.

Representatives from Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin, the Yukon Government, the Treadstone Mine, and the University of Calgary with Nun cho ga. Photo: Government of Yukon

For the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin tribe and the Yukon government, this is a very significant find. The Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin elders named the female mammoth calf “Nun cho ga,” which means “big animal baby” in the Haen language. At its death, Nun cho ga is said to have been about one month old, according to initial investigations.

“This is a remarkable discovery for our First Nation, and we look forward to working with the Yukon government on the next steps to deal with the remains in a way that respects our traditions, culture and laws. We are grateful for the Elders who have guided us thus far and for the name they have given us. We pledge to treat Nun cho ga with respect as it has chosen to reveal itself to us all,” said Roberta Joseph, Chief of the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin.

Many world-famous fossils of ice-age animals have been found in the permafrost of the Yukon. However, it is extremely rare to discover mummified remains with skin and hair. “As an Ice Age paleontologist, one of my lifelong dreams was to one day see a real woolly mammoth. That dream came true today. Nun cho ga is beautiful and one of the most incredible mummified Ice Age animals ever discovered in the world. I’m excited to learn more about her,” says Dr. Grant Zazula, paleontologist with the Government of Yukon.

According to a news release from the Yukon government, these amazing Ice Age remains provide a highly detailed glimpse into a time when Nun cho ga roamed the Yukon along with wild horses, cave lions and giant steppe bison.  

Canadian paleontologists will closely analyze Nun cho ga over the next few months as researchers and prospectors search for more Ice Age relics at the site near Dawson City.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

More on the subject

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‘Sparta’ – the best preserved ice age animal
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