Grant Zazula is excited.
The Yukon government paleontologist just spent a week in the Klondike goldfields looking for — and found — Ice Age fossils.
So far, he said, he and his team have found a woolly mammoth’s shoulder blade, a complete tusk, a few leg bones, a steppe bison, a few horses and a caribou.
“We think we’ve found an Ice Age fox bone,” he added.
But what makes him even more excited is a block of frozen mud from the fields that is now in his freezer.
“You can see a leg bone with skin and hair coming out,” he said.
He thinks it’s an Ice Age rabbit, but he’ll find out in the fall when he gets a chance to take a closer look.
“So we have another great mummified animal from the Ice Age from the Klondike,” he said.
‘Surprising to me’
Zazula has been searching for fossils in the Klondike goldfields for many years and has found an awful lot, he said.
They often find ice age mammals such as woolly mammoths, steppe bison, ancient horses, lions, wolves and others, usually between 10,000 and 100,000 years old.
And yet he continues to be amazed that there is always something new, something unexpected that he will find.
“I’m surprised,” he said. “Every year we kind of think, ah, we’re going to the Klondike, you know, we’ll find the typical stuff and we’ll find a few more and a few more of that, but every year we find something that’s totally radical , something astonishing.”
Thanks to the gold diggers
Zazula found out about the mummified animal because the miner who found it decided to collect it, put it in a freezer and call him.
He said prospectors have been finding Ice Age fossils in the Yukon for 120 years and none of them would be discovered if it weren’t for their careful work.
“Not only are they willing to help us and hand over bones that they find, but they’re really excited to be a part of this and work with our colleagues as scientists,” Zazula said.
“I don’t know of many places in the world where we have this kind of relationship between industry, mining and paleontology. But here in the Yukon it works really well.”
Scott Cocker, a PhD student at the University of Alberta, is collaborating with Zazula and is also working to find ancient Arctic squirrels and other animals by collecting DNA samples from the permafrost, in hopes of identifying frozen squirrel nests.
A few months ago, Zazula said a report came out indicating that woolly mammoth DNA was found in the frozen ground from about 6,000 years ago in the Klondike, “which is amazing because it tells us woolly mammoths became extinct much later.” than we previously thought.”
“So we took more core samples from the permafrost for DNA and genetics. And we’re going to try to follow up on some of that work,” Zazula said.
Make-A-Wish dream come true
In the summer, other paleontologists from Sweden, France, the US and the Canadian Museum of Nature will join Zazula and Cocker, along with Elizabeth Hall, an assistant paleontologist with the territorial government, and Susan Hewitson, a paleontology field technician.
They continue to search for fossils in the Klondike goldfields and spend about two weeks on the Old Crow River.
In August, they are also joined for a while by a seven-year-old from the Make-A-Wish Foundation who wants to become an ice age paleontologist.
“So we’re going to make his dream of Make-A-Wish Foundation come true and take him out and collect mammoth bones,” Zazula said.