A 36,000-year-old male bison
Where it was found
The mummy of a 36,000 year-old male bison was discovered just north of Fairbanks, Alaska, in July 1979. A gold miner first noticed the mummy that came to be called Blue Babe. Using a high-pressure water gun, the miner was washing away layers of frozen silt near Pearl Creek in order to uncover a layer of gravel that contained gold, when he saw the bison's feet sticking out of the mud.
How many exist
There is only one Blue Babe. However, beginning with the Alaskan gold rush, many miners had come across the frozen mummies of large animals. Often the bodies were incomplete, and since the miners were much more interested in finding their fortunes than in exploring the past, the carcasses were set aside and left to rot.
In 2012, a second bison mummy was discovered. Its name? Bison Bob. You can read more about it here.
What's special about Blue Babe
Blue Babe's body was almost completely intact on discovery, making it quite unusual for a 36,000 year-old mummy. This allowed scientists to examine it thoroughly in order to determine when and how it died. The investigation uncovered a number of facts:
1. Blue Babe died in early winter. Four clues pointed to this fact. First, Blue Babe's fur was clearly a winter coat. Second, the body contained a great deal of fat, indicating that the normally lean animal was ready for winter. Third, the analysis of Blue Babe's teeth and horns also showed that its summer growth was over. Finally, the body had been attacked and the flesh partially eaten. However, scientists concluded that the body froze soon after it was only partly eaten. If the bison had died in July, its body would not have been in good condition when it froze the next winter.
2. Blue Babe was killed by another animal. Scratch marks on the rear of Blue Babe indicated that a predator had been responsible for its death. By comparing the scratches on Blue Babe to the marks made by predators, scientists deduced that Blue Babe had been killed by a lion. The wounds matched those found on the bodies of African buffalo killed by lions. What's more, a most convincing piece of evidence - a large piece of lion's tooth buried in the bison's neck - had been left behind. Are you surprised that lions might once have lived in Alaska? At one time lions roamed Europe and North America. What's more, 36,000-year-old lion fossils have been discovered in Alaska.
Scientists concluded that two or three lions killed Blue Babe and began to eat the carcass. Since the bison was too big for the lions to consume at once, they left the body for a time. Before they could return to feed again, freezing weather set in. Frozen bison meat would have been too tough for the lions, and by the time spring came, the body was buried in a flow of silt that ensured it would remain frozen and mummified.
Where to see Blue Babe
Today Blue Babe is displayed at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. But the bison on display is not exactly the same as the one pulled out of Pearl Creek. A plaster mold of the body was created, then covered with Blue Babe's tanned and treated skin.
Where to find more info about Blue Babe