Last week, gold miners found something worth way more than its weight in gold: an intact, mummified baby woolly mammoth. They made their discovery on Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin traditional territory within Yukon, Canada.
This is only the second ever baby woolly mammoth found—the first was in Siberia in 2007—and paleontologists are ecstatic. “As an ice age paleontologist, it has been one of my lifelong dreams to come face to face with a real woolly mammoth,” said Yukon paleontologist Grant Zazula in a joint news release from Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin and the Yukon government. “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 am excited to get to know her more.”
Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin elders gave the calf her name. Nun cho ga means “big baby animal” in the Hän language.
The baby mammoth measures about four and a half feet long. She probably died more than 30,000 years ago at the age of one month, and remained frozen in the permafrost. She would have grown up to roam the land at the same time as giant steppe bison and cave lions.
Zazula described Nun cho ga as the most important paleontology discovery in North America. Back in 1948, a partial mammoth calf was uncovered at an Alaskan gold mine, but Nun cho ga is perfect. “She has a trunk,” said Zazula. “She has a tail. She has tiny little ears. She has the little prehensile end of the trunk where she could use it to grab grass.”
In a stroke of luck, two geologists were able to get to the area very soon after miners found the mammoth baby. Soon after they arrived, a thunderstorm dumped rain—not good for a mummy just out of the permafrost.
“This is as a remarkable recovery for our First Nation, and we look forward to collaborating with the Yukon government on the next steps in the process for moving forward with these remains in a way that honors our traditions, culture, and laws,” said Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Roberta Joseph.
Lead image via Pexels