In the rugged landscapes of Alaska, where the gleam of gold once captivated the hearts of prospectors, another treasure was unearthed, not in the form of precious metal, but in the frozen remains of an ancient creature. The Alaskan Gold Rush, a defining chapter in the state’s history, drew miners from far and wide to seek their fortunes. Amidst their relentless pursuit of gold, an astonishing discovery emerged – frozen mummies of ancient animals that had long been hidden beneath the icy embrace of time. In 1979, the world was introduced to “Tale of Blue Babe ” a remarkably preserved mummified Alaskan steppe bison, unlocking a window into a distant past.
A Frozen Glimpse into History
Tale of Blue Babe uniqueness lies in its remarkable state of preservation, defying the odds of time’s passage. This bison, hailing from an era that marked the close of the 19th century, presents an unparalleled opportunity to explore the lives of creatures that roamed the land millennia ago. Scientific analyses of both the carcass and the frozen soil that cocooned it have yielded a wealth of valuable data, enabling researchers to reconstruct the bison’s journey, particularly its final moments.
From Gold to Frozen Gold
The backdrop of the Gold Rush, characterized by its frenzied pursuit of riches, often overshadowed the importance of preserving ancient remains. Miners, singularly focused on extracting gold, often discarded such remnants of the past. However, in a twist of fate, Walter and Ruth Roman, along with their sons, stumbled upon an unexpected treasure near Fairbanks in 1979. As a hydraulic mining hose unintentionally melted the icy terrain, Blue Babe’s frozen remains were exposed to daylight. The creature’s hide exhibited a metallic blue sheen, reminiscent of Babe the Blue Ox from American folklore, leading to the christening of this ancient find as “Blue Babe.”
Unveiling the Past
Recognizing the significance of their discovery, the miners reached out to the University of Alaska. Russell Dale Guthrie, a paleontologist, answered the call and journeyed to the site. Guthrie’s expertise identified the specimen as a steppe bison from the Ice Age, potentially dating back tens of thousands of years. Urgency drove the excavation, even though the frozen ground posed challenges. As summer thawed the soil gradually, the bison’s body emerged, save for its head and neck. To prevent decay, Guthrie opted to separate these exposed parts, transporting the carcass to the university for careful preservation.
Insights from the Deep Freeze
At the University of Alaska, meticulous scientific investigations commenced. Radiocarbon dating of Blue Babe’s hide suggested an age of 36,000 years. Recent advancements in Accelerated Mass Spectrometry promised an even more precise dating, reinforcing the bison’s ancient lineage.
The Tale of a Predatory End
Evidence points to a dramatic end for Tale of Blue Babe, possibly at the claws of an American lion, an extinct subspecies from the Ice Age. Scratches on its rear, tooth punctures on its skin, and a lion’s tooth fragment lodged in its neck paint a vivid picture of a predator-prey encounter. The timing, indicated by the creature’s fur coat, teeth, and fat content, aligns with the onset of winter. The plummeting temperatures likely prevented the lions from returning to finish their meal, inadvertently securing Blue Babe’s fate as a mummified relic.
A Surprising Culinary Episode
One of the most astonishing anecdotes revolves around the researchers themselves. In 1984, during preparations for display, a piece of Blue Babe’s neck tissue was removed. Seizing a unique opportunity, the team decided to prepare a stew from this ancient flesh, which was shared among them. The meat’s robust, earthy aroma and its surprising edibility added an unexpected layer to the story.
Blue Babe’s Legacy
Today, the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North proudly showcases a plaster model of Blue Babe, capturing the essence of this enigmatic creature. Covered in its tanned and treated skin, the model stands as a testament to the mysteries of the past that continue to captivate our imaginations.