In 2017, a mammoth tusk collector Boris Berezhnev in Siberia was on his hunt for mammoth tusks when he found a lion cub — later named Boris — frozen near the Semyuelyakh River buried about 10-12 metres deep. A year later, just 15 metres away from where Boris was found, a second lion cub’s fossil was found. Thinking that these remnants may be from the Ice Age — a long period during which the Earth’s temperature reduced freezing everything to death — the palaeontologists performed computed tomography(CT) scans on the mummies of the cubs. Now, the latest research based on the analyses reveals that the second cub — named Sparta — is about 28,000 years old and was frozen to death more than 10,000 years later than Boris, which was frozen about 43,000 years ago. The findings reject the speculations that the two cubs were siblings.
The lion cubs, who had died before they were frozen only to be discovered thousands of years later, belong to a species of Eurasian cave lions that went extinct about 14,000 years ago. The mummies of the cave lion cubs bear no marks of tooth and skin injuries, which indicates that they were not attacked to death. According to the scientists, more plausible explanations for their death can be either they fell into a place from where they could not get out and ultimately starved to death, or their mothers went away for hunting but were killed themselves, and the cubs died from hunger. When the cubs died they were just 1-2 months old. Most likely they died in their den when it was covered by snow or earth, which explains why scavengers could not find their bodies.
Their burial in ice is responsible for their perfect preservation that astonishes scientists. “Sparta is probably the best-preserved Ice Age animal ever found and is more or less undamaged apart from the fur being a bit ruffled,” says Love Dalén, one of the authors of the study, in a statement. According to Dalén, while Boris was a little more damaged, Sparta even had its whiskers preserved. The study was published on August 4 in Quaternary.