Baby woolly mammoth – beautifully preserved – found in Yukon

The head, front legs and trunk of a baby elephant-like animal, preserved in rock.
Miners in Yukon, Canada, stumbled upon an intact and beautifully preserved baby woolly mammoth on June 21, 2022. Geologists suggest the animal was frozen in permafrost during the ice age, over 30,000 years ago.

Baby woolly mammoth: ‘Beautiful’

The Canadian territory Yukon – and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, a First Nation band – said late last week (June 24, 2022) that miners in the region have discovered a whole, 30,000-year-old mummified baby woolly mammoth. It’s only the second one ever found in the world. And it’s the first and most complete discovery of its kind in North America.

Miners with the Treadstone Mining company found the near-complete mummified baby woolly mammoth. They found her in the Klondike gold fields within Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territory. A joint statement from Yukon and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in said:

Miners working on Eureka Creek uncovered the frozen woolly mammoth while excavating through the permafrost. This is a significant discovery for Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the Government of Yukon. Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elders named the mammoth calf Nun cho ga, meaning ‘big baby animal’ in the Hän language.

The Yukon has a world-renowned fossil record of ice age animals. But mummified remains with skin and hair are rarely unearthed. Nun cho ga is the most complete mummified mammoth found in North America.

‘It took my breath away’

Yukon paleontologist Grant Zazula has been studying the ice age in the Yukon since 1999. He said:

As an ice age paleontologist, it has been one of my lifelong dreams to come face to face with a real woolly mammoth. And that dream came true today. Nun cho ga is beautiful and one of the most incredible mummified ice age animals ever discovered in the world. So I am excited to get to know her more.

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder Peggy Kormendy said:

It’s amazing. It took my breath away when they removed the tarp. We must all treat it with respect. When that happens, it is going to be powerful, and we will heal.

Brian McCaughan of Treadstone Mining said:

There will be one thing that stands out in a person’s entire life. And I can guarantee you this is my one thing.

Shrunken fleshed small elephant like creature lying on its side on a blue tarp.
‘She’s beautiful,’ said Yukon government paleontologist Dr. Grant Zazula. The 1st whole baby woolly mammoth found in North America and 2nd in the world has been named Nun cho ga (“Big baby animal” in the Hän language). You can see her well-preserved trunk, ears and tail. Image via Government of Yukon.

‘Most important discovery in paleontology in North America’

Michel Proulx of CBC News in Canada reported that miners made the discovery on June 21, which is National Indigenous People’s Day:

A little after noon … a young miner working in Yukon’s Eureka Creek, south of Dawson City, was digging up muck using a front end loader when he struck something. He stopped and called his boss, who went to see him right away.

When he arrived, Treadstone Mining’s Brian McCaughan put a stop to the operation on the spot. Within half an hour, Zazula received a picture of the discovery. According to Zazula, the miner had made the ‘most important discovery in paleontology in North America.’

‘She would have been lost in the storm’

Proulx continued:

National Indigenous People’s Day is a statutory holiday in the Yukon so when Zazula received the email, he tried to contact anyone he could find in Dawson City who could help.

Two geologists, one with the Yukon Geological Survey and another with the University of Calgary, were able to drive to the creek and recover the baby woolly mammoth and do a complete geological description and sampling of the site.

‘And the amazing thing is, within an hour of them being there to do the work, the sky opened up, it turned black, lightning started striking and rain started pouring in,’ said Zazula.

‘So if she wasn’t recovered at that time, she would have been lost in the storm.’

Distant men in miner garb looking at the ground, and talking, along ledges on a dark rocky bluff.
On June 21, 2022, miners discovered the intact baby woolly mammoth at Treadstone Mine in the Yukon’s Eureka Creek. The mine is located south of Dawson City, a town in the Canadian territory of Yukon. Image via Government of Yukon.

Quick facts

– A quick examination of the woolly mammoth suggests she is female and roughly the same size as the 42,000-year-old infant mummy woolly mammoth Lyuba, found in Siberia in 2007.

– Geologists from the Yukon Geological Survey and University of Calgary recovered the frozen mammoth on site. They suggest that Nun cho ga died and was frozen in permafrost during the ice age, over 30,000 years ago.

– These amazing ice age remains provide an extremely detailed glimpse into a time when Nun cho ga roamed the Yukon alongside wild horses, cave lions and giant steppe bison.

– The discovery of Nun cho ga marks the first near complete and best-preserved mummified woolly mammoth found in North America. A partial mammoth calf, named Effie, was found in 1948 at a gold mine in interior Alaska.

– The successful recovery of Nun cho ga was possible because of the partnership between miners, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the Government of Yukon’s Department of Environment, Yukon Geological Survey, and Yukon Palaeontology Program.

Baby woolly mammoth: What’s next?

In the months to come, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the Government of Yukon say they will work together to respectfully preserve and learn more about Nun cho ga and share these stories and information with the community of Dawson City, residents of the Yukon and the global scientific community.

Older woman, rather stern, with curly white hair.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder Peggy Kormendy expressed the important of her people’s ancestral gravesites when she said: “You have to think about the ancestors, too. On the mountain or by the river, they buried their loved ones. If your parents pass away and have a gravesite, you come and you’re gonna clean it and look after it, you know? It’s the same thing with us, that’s what we do.” Image and caption via Protect the Peel’s Portrait Project.

Bottom line: Miners working in the Klondike gold fields of the Yukon territory in Canada – within Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territory – stumbled upon a well preserved, 30,000-year-old baby woolly mammoth on June 21, 2022. She’s beautiful, geologists said.

June 28, 2022

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