'Prehistoric' mummified bear discovered in Siberian permafrost isn't what we thought

The bear, which was discovered in 2020, was once thought to be an extinct cave bear that was at least 22,000 years old. Nevertheless, a recent necropsy has revealed that it is truly a brown bear from 3,500 years ago.

A recent research shows that a perfectly preserved, mummified bear discovered in the Siberian permafrost in 2020 isn't what experts first believed it to be. The strangely undamaged cadaver is far younger than previously thought and really belonged to a completely other species.

The bear's entire skin, hair, teeth, nose, claws, body fat, and internal organs were discovered by reindeer herders on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island, a remote Russian island situated in the East Siberian Sea. It was given the name Etherican bear by researchers in honor of the neighboring Bolshoy Etherican River.

When the Etherican bear was initially discovered, scientists from the North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) at Yakutsk's Lazarev Mammoth Museum Laboratory, who have overseen the study of the bones, believed that the mummy was an extinct cave bear (Ursus spelaeus). The massive ancient bears, which are closely related to brown bears (Ursus arctos) and polar bears (Ursus maritimus) based on fossil evidence, are estimated to have stood at 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) tall and weighed a whopping 3,300 pounds (1,500 kilograms). The researchers assumed that the mummy was at least this ancient since U. spelaeus died extinct approximately 22,000 years ago, during the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, the coldest period of the previous ice age.

Nevertheless, further investigation showed that their presumptions on the Etherican bear were completely incorrect: The NEFU team revealed in a statement in December 2022 that the creature was actually a brown bear dating to about 3,460 years ago.

According to Reuters, the NEFU team recently performed a complete necropsy, or animal autopsy, on the Etherican bear, which has revealed more more about the enigmatic mummies.

The female bear was 5.2 feet (1.6 meters) tall, weighed around 172 pounds (78 kg), and had an estimated age of 2 to 3 years at the time of death. The bear's cause of death is unknown, however the mummy exhibited evidence of severe spinal injuries that most likely contributed to the bear's mortality.

The stomach contents of the Etherican bear were still mostly intact because of how well preserved it was. This indicated that the bear had been eating a variety of unidentified plants and birds, some of whose feathers were still within the animal's stomach. This is consistent with what is known about brown bears in the wild, which are omnivores and consume both plants and animals in their diet.

After cutting through the bear's skull, the researchers also extracted its brain, which they want to examine later.

How the Etherican bear wound up on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island is one of the greatest unanswered questions regarding the bear.

According to Reuters, the most plausible reason for the island's brown bear population is that they relocated there while it was still connected to the mainland by sea ice during the Last Glacial Maximum. The island is today isolated from the mainland by around 31 miles (50 kilometers) of ocean. But if that were the case, researchers would have anticipated discovering a lot more brown bear skeletal remains on the island, which is a hotspot for mammoth skeletal remains and other paleontological treasures.