2 perfectly preserved cave lion cubs from the Ice Age, still with whiskers and fur, unearthed by scientists

Ice Age lion cub Sparta
Ice Age lion cub Sparta was perfectly preserved by Russian permafrost. Twitter, Centre for Palaeogenetics, @CpgSthlm
  • Two nearly perfectly preserved Ice Age lion cubs were found in Russia, still with whiskers and fur.
  • Scientists say the cubs, nicknamed Sparta and Boris, lived around 28,000 and 43,000 years ago.
  • Researchers said Sparta was probably the best preserved Ice Age animal ever found.
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Scientists have found two nearly perfectly preserved cave lion cubs from the Ice Age, nicknamed Boris and Sparta, in east Russia.

Only four ancient cave lion cubs have ever been found, and scientists say these two are the best-preserved ones.

“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 Dalen, a professor in Evolutionary Genetics and author of a new study on the cubs, told CNN.

“She even had the whiskers preserved. Boris is a bit more damaged, but still pretty good.”

Cave lions, known as panthera spelaea, roamed Eurasia during the Ice Age before going extinct over 10,000 years ago.

Boris and Sparta were found in 2017 and 2018 within 15 meters (49 feet) of each other on the banks of the Semyuelyakh river by mammoth tusk hunters.

Although they were initially thought to be related, new research has revealed that the cubs were around 15,000 years apart in age.

Using radiocarbon dating scientists determined that the male cub Boris is around 43,448 years old, while the female cub Sparta is 27,962 years old, according to the study published in Quaternary.

Both animals were around one or two months old when they died, according to the study. While their cause of death is unclear, researchers said there was no evidence to suggest a predator had killed them.

“Given their preservation, they must have been buried very quickly. So maybe they died in a mudslide, or fell into a crack in the permafrost,” Dalen told CNN. “Permafrost forms large cracks due to seasonal thawing and freezing.”

The cubs’ coats were similar but not identical to that of an African lion cub, and Sparta had a more dull, greyish coat compared to Boris, according to the team.

“The general tone of the color of the fur coat of Sparta is greyish to light brown, whereas, in Boris, the fur is generally lighter, greyish yellowish,” they said.

“It is, therefore, possible that light coloration prevailed with age in cave lions and was adaptive for northern snow-covered landscapes.”