If you ever needed proof the world has drastically changed since humans emerged, this could be it.
The severed head of a huge wolf from the Ice Age has been uncovered by scientists in Siberia. The head measures nearly 16 inches (40cm) long, and is believed to date back around 40,000 years. Humans only arrived in the part of the world around 32,500 years ago.
The head, which was found with its brain still intact, is almost twice the size of its modern day descendants, grey wolves, whose heads measure around nine inches.
The decapitated head was found above the Arctic Circle by local man Pavel Efimov last summer, near the Tirekhtyakh river, though scientists are only now sharing the discovery.
It is not immediately clear why the head has been preserved so well all these years, and while it might look like the work of a primitive hunter, humans didn’t settle in this area of northern Russia until around 32,500 years ago, so it’s unlikely to be done by human hand.
One of the scientists working to uncover the head’s mysteries, Dr Albert Protopopov, told the Siberian Times:
This is a unique discovery of the first-ever remains of a fully grown Pleistocene wolf with its tissue preserved.
We will be comparing it to modern-day wolves to understand how the species has evolved and to reconstruct its appearance.
Yes it is definitely a wolf.
Maybe the hair colouring makes people think it is a bear, but actually it is quite strange to hear, as morphologically this is a very typical wolf.
Yet when we made CTA scans of the wolf, we found out that there are some peculiarities. Some parts of the skull are more developed than in modern wolves.
We want to find out if this represents the individual characteristics of this very specimen.
Or if this can be a wolf sub-species, given the different environment in which these animals lived in the conditions of mammoth steppe.
The wolf has a thick, ‘mammoth-like’ coat, with large fangs that appear to be larger than today’s Siberian wolves.
Dashing the hopes of countless Game of Thrones fans out there, the scientists said they doubt it is a dire wolf. Dire wolves are an extinct species from North America, and while the two areas were, at one point, joined by a ‘land bridge’, the research team think this particular wolf does not bear the typical dire wolf characteristics.
The team have suggested the head was separated from the wolf’s body by ice, which can expand and separate the head from the body in cases such as this.
Though scientists also added: ‘But we do not exclude that it could have been cut artificially. To exclude this a meticulous study is needed.’
The team are also planning another expedition to the area the head was found, to try and locate the rest of the body as they believe it may still be hidden there.
The muscles, and organs still inside the head are said to be in good condition, and scientists will continue to study the head by comparing it to the lions and wolves of today.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.