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.
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.
| What's special about
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
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.
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.
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
to Make a Mummy Talk by
James M. Deem has the story about Blue
Babe : The Story of a Steppe Bison Mummy from Ice Age Alaska
Lee Guthrie recounts the entire
story of Blue Babe's discovery and analysis.