A giant skull discovered in a remote location in Alaska may have belonged to a mysterious ancient polar bear, whose descendants inspired native accounts of a large 12-foot long bears that natives call "king bears" or "weasel bears" in their stories.
The remains of the creature, which may have walked in the frigid lands about 1,300 years ago, was reported by Arctic archeologist Anne Jensen and colleagues at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in January. The specimen was found at Walapka, an archeological site in northern Alaska in 2014.
One Of The Largest Polar Bear Skulls Ever Found
The skull is the fourth largest skull of a polar bear ever found. It measures more than 40 centimeters from the tip of the nose to the back of the skull. It also has large teeth sticking out.
Although researchers are not certain how big the creature was when it was alive, the size of the skull gives them a good idea that the bear would have been a large animal.
Analysis revealed that the skull belonged to a male which died at an old age as hinted by the cranial sutures, where the skull plates meet. The cranial sutures are fused and barely visible which indicate the creature was an adult at the time of its death.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that the bear likely lived between 670 to 800 CE. Researchers said that they have nicknamed the skull of the bear "The Old One" because it is so ancient.
Differences And Similarities With Skulls Of Modern-Day Polar Bears
Besides its ordinarily large size, scientists also noted several other characteristics that differ the skull of the creature from those of modern polar bears. The back of the skull, for instance, seems longer and more narrow compared with that of modern bears.
It is possible that the creature belonged to an elusives subspecies of polar bear because of its features that are similar to modern bears. Wildlife veterinarian Dr. Raphaela Stimmelmayr has compared the skull to over 300 skulls of polar bears found in the University of Alaska Museum of the North collection and discovered several skulls of polar bears that have similar features and shape as those of The Old One.
"It's possible it's a subspecies," Jensen said, "or perhaps it's more like [with] domestic dogs, where a borzoi and pug are considered members of the same species, [and] not [a] subspecies, even though their skulls are far more different than this is from a standard polar bear skull."
Similar giant bears may potentially still thrive in the Arctic as depicted by the accounts of local people. It isn't however, certain how closely related the ancient bear is to the giant bears that may still live today.
Researchers To Analyze Teeth And DNA Of The Ancient Skull
Further studies are being planned. Researchers want to analyze the DNA of the skull and conduct a cross-sectioning of some of the creature's teeth to learn more about this creature. The information may also shed light on past cultures that functioned in Alaska's challenging environment.