Mummified remains of ancient horse goes on display

July 20, 2009


An artist's impression of the Yukon Horse. © Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre

The mummified remains of a 26,000-year-old horse found in Canada have gone on display in a museum.

The horse, discovered in the Yukon, is the best-preserved specimen of a mummified, extinct large mammal ever found in Canada.

Miners Sam and Lee Olynyk, and Ron Toews, who were working a claim in the Klondike, found the remains in September 1993. It has since been identified as a horse which once roamed the plains of the area and has been radiocarbon dated at 26,000 years old.

The miners contacted the Yukon government about their discovery, which in turn contacted Dick Harington at Ottawa's Canadian Museum of Nature.

Scientists in Ottawa began treatment of the hide and soft tissue, analysed the animal's intestinal contents as well as radiocarbon dated a bone sample.

The results of these tests have substantially changed the scientific view about the Yukon horse.

The hide showed that the animal looked something like Przewalski's horse which still survives today in Mongolia.

"The Yukon horse, a relatively small horse closely related to the modern horse occupied the steppe-like grasslands of Eastern Beringia," Harington said.

"It was one of the commonest species known from that region, along with steppe bison, woolly mammoths and caribou.

"We are grateful to local miners for their magnificent cooperation with scientists in helping to establish our knowledge of this important, now extinct, species."

While horses originated in North America around 55 million years ago, genetic studies suggest that a single Late Pleistocene horse species ranged from western Europe to Eastern Beringia.

Beringia is the name given to a tundra region that included unglaciated parts of Alaska, the Yukon and Siberia, and bridged what is now the Bering sea between the two continents.

Yukon horses becoming extinct about 12,000 years ago. Modern horses were re-introduced to North America by European settlers in the 1500s.

The Yukon horse has become the newest member in an impressive collection of exhibits belonging to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre.

"The Yukon Horse exhibit adds an important piece of Beringia history to an already impressive list of recent scientific discoveries in the Yukon," said Elaine Taylor, tourism and culture minister.

"We are proud of the work done to date to learn from this wonderful artifact and the collaboration among industry, governments and the scientific world, which is helping to ensure special discoveries like the Yukon Horse are preserved and shared for today and future generations."