The Earth is heat­ing up. While some are still argu­ing about whether this is down to humans or not (spoil­er: it is), we are already see­ing changes tak­ing place in the environment.

In Siberia, glob­al warm­ing is thaw­ing per­mafrost. This is rock and soil that remains below zero degrees Centi­grade, and some of it has remained so for thou­sands of years.

It turns out to be very good at pre­serv­ing trapped remains, as sev­er­al recent dis­cov­er­ies have revealed – the lat­est being a par­tic­u­lar­ly pris­tine example.

On a river­bank in Russia’s Yaku­tia region, a pair pup­pies belong­ing to a now-extinct species of dog were found in the per­mafrost, and con­sid­er­ing their age, they are quite extra­or­di­nary specimens:

To find a car­niv­o­rous mam­mal intact with skin, fur and inter­nal organs – this has nev­er hap­pened before in his­to­ry,” Sergei Fyo­dor­ov, head of exhi­bi­tions at the Mam­moth Muse­um in Yakut­sk, told The Guardian.

Look­ing at the remains, it’s hard to imag­ine that they are more than a few decades old. In truth, they are near­ly twelve and a half thou­sand years old!

Pup­pies are very rare, because they have thin bones and del­i­cate skulls,” Fyo­dor­ov said.

Hav­ing access not only to the animal’s bones, but also its skin and inter­nal organs should yield lots of new infor­ma­tion about how these ani­mals lived. And that can tell us more about humans, too.

Man’s best friend

Take a walk to your local dog park. Check out the var­i­ous shapes and sizes of canine we see today, includ­ing the lit­tle ones: pugs, chi­huahuas, poodles.

How is it that these ani­mals evolved from wolves?

The answer: humans. We’ve been in a sym­bi­ot­ic – mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial – rela­tion­ship with these crea­tures for tens of thou­sands of years.

Thanks to selec­tive breed­ing, we’ve ampli­fied cer­tain qual­i­ties, like cute­ness and friend­li­ness, and bred out oth­ers, into the wide vari­ety of breeds that exist today.

In exchange, dogs have helped us hunt, pro­tect­ed our home­steads, and become extend­ed mem­bers of our com­mu­ni­ties. Per­haps domes­ti­cat­ing wolves was one of the key sur­vival tac­tics that led to the suc­cess of our species globally.

Thus far, the lin­eages of wolves that like­ly gave rise to dogs have not yet been dis­cov­ered and it’s pos­si­ble that these pup­pies could be on that lin­eage, which would be very excit­ing,” said Greger Lar­son, a evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gist at Oxford University.

In you have a spare eight min­utes, this piece from Cos­mos: A Space­time Odyssey does a fan­tas­tic job of explain­ing this con­cept of arti­fi­cial selection”:

There is still a lot to learn about dog domes­ti­ca­tion, and dis­cov­er­ies like this will do a lot to help us advance our understanding.