The permafrost of Russia is thawing, and that’s really bad news for the environment, but as it melts it is revealing some intriguing finds that have lain hidden beneath the frozen ground for thousands of years.
First off, let’s start with the bad news.
We need that permafrost pretty badly.
If it all continues to thaw away due to climate change, the huge amount of carbon it currently contains will be released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, creating a horrendous feedback loop that will serve only to accelerate the already quickening impact of global warming.
However, as the permafrost is rolled back, it is revealing some interesting finds for the archaeologists.
An investigation by Sky News found that scientists in the region have been finding parts of mammoth tusks, as well as the bones of the enigmatic woolly rhinoceros.
The woolly rhinoceros hasn’t been seen roaming the world since around 14,000 or 15,000 years ago, whereas the mammoth went extinct around 10,500 years ago at the end of the last ice age.
Towards the end of last year, the melting permafrost revealed an incredibly well-preserved woolly rhino specimen for the scientists to pore over.
While the specimen is yet to be comprehensively dated, it could be as old as 34,000 years and – even more remarkably – 80 percent preserved.
Scientist Dr Albert Protopopov said: “According to preliminary estimates, the rhino is three or four years old and is a very young individual.
“Most likely, it drowned in the river.
“The carcass is very well preserved.
“Among other things, part of the internal organs are preserved, which in the future will make it possible to study in more detail how the species ate and lived.”
He continued: “The Abyisky rhinoceros can already be called the only one of its kind in the world.
“Earlier, not even the bone remains of individuals of this age were found, not to mention the preserved carcasses of animals.
“As a rule, these were either cubs or adults.”
Now, the rhino is being preserved before it can be presented to the scientific community.
It was discovered by local Alexei Savvin, who stumbled across the creature, which has even got the last meal it ate preserved in its stomach.
Dr Valery Plotnikov, a researcher with the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), believes that the creature is between 20,000 and 50,000 years old.
A seriously important discovery, then.
He said: “We have learned that woolly rhinoceroses were covered in very thick hair.
“Previously, we could judge this only from rock paintings discovered in France.
“Now, judging by the thick coat with the undercoat, we can conclude that the rhinoceroses were fully adapted to the cold climate very much from a young age.”
Interesting though it is, we could do with not finding too many more incredible beasts beneath the surface of the permafrost.
We’re in big trouble if all of that goes.