One June morning, about half an hour before lunchtime, Travis Madri was backhoeing and digging through permafrost in the Klondike gold mines in Yukon, Canada.
He scratched the frozen wall of the earth. Suddenly a large piece fell out. With him was the body of a baby woolly mammoth, frozen and preserved along with its fur and hide.
“At first I thought it was a buffalo,” said Mr. Wilson. Madri, 31, from Alberta. “And then I got out and I was looking at him and he had a trunk so I didn’t have words.”
The mammoth was dark and shiny. said Madri, with short legs and deep, pronounced eye sockets. It had a lean, wrinkled body and a thickened tail. He quickly waved to a colleague and called his boss, Brian McCaughan, co-founder of the family-owned gold mining company Treadstone Equipment.
“He’s right in front of us, gleaming in the sun and looking like he just died,” he said. McCaughan, 57, said of the June 21 discovery, “It was crazy.”
He compared its size to that of a white-tailed deer. mr. Digging up bones, even mammoths, was common in mining, McCaughan said, but this discovery was something incomparable. “It’s like we got an award from Mother Earth when you pulled something like that out of the ground,” he said.
Experts estimate that the mammoth was just over a month old when it perished in the mud. According to Grant Zazula, a Yukon government paleontologist, it was caught in time, imprisoned in a frozen layer of earth known as permafrost, during an ice age more than 30,000 years ago.
To be so well preserved, the mammoth had to be covered with mud very quickly. Zazula said, calling the circumstances “nothing less than a miracle”.
He said the baby mammoth was about 140 centimeters from the base of the tail to the base of the trunk, which is a little over four and a half feet.
Although his body was broken in half, possibly by an excavator or natural forces over time, he said it was “intact from tip to tail”.
He said it may be the best-preserved specimen found in North America and may even surpass Lubababy woolly mammoth, found in Siberia in 2017, almost intact, but without a tail.
Woolly mammoths, the ancestors of modern elephants, once traversed the Northern Hemisphere. They are disappeared about 10,000 years ago due to over-hunting and climate change.
According to Joshua H. Miller, a paleontologist and professor at the University of Cincinnati, there were many mammoths in the Yukon’s ancient past.
Today, the territory has a “magnificent” fossil record of prehistoric animals, including steppe bison, ancient cats and short-faced bears. Miller said, adding that mining has contributed to the wealth of discovery. But most of them were bones, not mummies.
The find is important for research, Mr. White. Miller said. Experts can better understand the mammoth’s anatomy and environment, and even the conditions that led to its long-term conservation.
There is also a deep meaning for Trondek Khvechin the people, the indigenous nation of the Yukon, in whose territory the mammoth died, Mr., said Zazula. He believes this is a healing opportunity for a nation that has been in conflict with gold rush miners for a century.
The elders of Trondek Khwechin named the mammoth Nong cho ga, “big baby animal” in Han, according to press release issued last week.
Roberta Joseph, Chief Tr’ondek Hweh’in, said in a statement that the First Nation looks forward to working with the Yukon government “on the next steps in moving forward with these remains in a way that honors our traditions, culture and laws.”
At the moment, Nun Choga is in a freezer in the Yukon, a few hours from the mine where she was found, awaiting further analysis. While studying the mammoth will reveal “incredible details” about the ancient past, even about what his last meal was, there was no rush, Mr Wilson said. Zazula said.
The Indigenous Nation, the Yukon government, scientists and miners are embarking together on a journey of cultural and scientific discovery, he said.
“This woolly mammoth is really a symbol of all of this together and how to move forward in a good way,” he said.