Ancient Hyena Fossils Discovered in Yukon Back In The 70s, Scientists Confirmed Recently

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Grant Zazula, a Yukon government paleontologist, have always suspected that the couple of fossilized teeth discovered close to Old Crow, in Yukon, back in the 1970s belong to a species of ancient hyena.

Experts have now confirmed his hunches, admitting that the ancient hyena traveled through that area from Asia as part of its migration process. The fossilized teeth highlight the migration of the cat genus that traveled through the grass-abundant tundra on its way to the US during the first years of the latest ice age.

Jack Tseng, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Buffalo, and expert on ancient predatory mammals was the one to confirm Zazula’s suspicion. Researchers Tseng and Zazula noted their discoveries in a study issued in the journal Open Quaternary​. Charlie Thomas was among the group of people who found the fossils. The teeth were being kept at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, the place Tseng went to analyze them.

Ancient Hyena Fossils Discovered In Yukon

The expert confirmed the fossils as belonging to a species of ancient hyena known as ‘Chasmaporthetes​,’ based on analogy to a universal sample of hyena fossils. Chasmaporthetes​ fossils have also been discovered in Mexico and Mongolia, but never in the regions between, until now. Fossils of this species had earlier been discovered in Europe, Africa, Asia and in the southern area of the US.

The fossils are evidence that the ancient cat has at least passed through Beringia on its way to the US, experts say. Chasmaporthetes​ would have had approximately the same mass as today’s hyenas, but with longer legs, so it can move more effectively on long distances. That proves to be crucial as this genus of hyenas would have been a hunter, besides rummaging for food.

Zuzula explained that the tall grass existing on the tundra at that time would have been a perfect environment for ancient camels, caribou and mammoth that hyenas would have hunted. The Yukon fossils are thought to be somewhere between 850,000 and 1.4 million years old, but the first wave of Chasmaporthetes​ fossils discovered in Mexico and the southern areas of US might be around 4.75 million years old.


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