Boris Berezhnev regularly searched the banks of the Semyuelyakh River for mammoth tusks, which he has a license to collect. Instead, he stumbled across two lion cubs preserved for tens of thousands of years.
Berezhnev found the first cub, a male specimen nicknamed Boris, in 2017; he discovered the second cub, a female specimen nicknamed Sparta, in 2018, just 15 meters (around 50 feet) from the first cub, EcoWatch reported.
Sparta was preserved in near-perfect condition.
“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,” Love Dalén, co-author of a new study on the find, said Friday in a news release from Stockholm University. “She even had the whiskers preserved.”
Boris was deemed “a bit more damaged, but still pretty good.”
Researchers initially believed that the cubs might be siblings, but radiocarbon dating indicated that Sparta was around 28,000 years old while Boris was over 43,000 years old.
The cave lion went extinct around 10,000 years ago.
The cubs were around the same age when they died, roughly 1-2 months old, according to a study released in the journal Quarternary on Wednesday.
The study explores the possible cause of death for each cub as well as certain characteristics of note, such as the possibility that the coloring of the cave lion’s fur may have been adaptive for the snow-covered landscape.
Dalen speculates that the quality of preservation, along with some damage to the skulls and ribs, indicates the cubs died in a mudslide or some similar natural event.
The study was led by Gennady Boeskorov from the Diamond and Precious Metals Geology Institute at the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and included other researchers from Russia, France, Sweden, the U.K. and Japan, CBC reported.