Yukon miner digs up skull of extinct muskox

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Stuart Schmidt Muskox
Miner Stuart Schmidt poses with the intact skull of the now extinct North American helmeted muskox in this undated handout photo. An ancient "monster" muskox skull has been uncovered by a miner working near Dawson City, Yukon. The Klondike Placer Miners' Association said Stuart Schmidt was using heavy equipment at a site in western Yukon on Monday when he stumbled upon an intact skull of a North American helmeted muskox. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

DAWSON CITY, Yukon – An ancient “monster” muskox skull has been uncovered by a miner working near Dawson City, Yukon.

The Klondike Placer Miners’ Association said Stuart Schmidt was using heavy equipment at a site in western Yukon on Monday when he stumbled upon an intact skull of a North American helmeted muskox.

The species is a distant relative of today’s tundra muskox and is extinct, the association said in a release.

Schmidt said in the release that he saw something unusual sticking out of the gravel and decided to investigate.

“I got off the ‘dozer and gave it a pull, thinking it was a fragment of bison horn but it did not budge so I pulled harder with both hands and out came a monster from the past,” he said.

Grant Zazula, a paleontologist with the territorial government, said his jaw dropped when he got a photo of the skull.

“He knew it was something special because we’ve worked with Stuart for years and he’s seen thousands and thousands of fossils before, bones of ice-age animals. And he knew this was something unique when he saw it,” Zazula said.

Two of Zazula’s assistants now have the specimen and plans are underway to do carbon dating to determine the age of the fossil.

“Because of the incredible preservation, it will give us the opportunity to do all kinds of other work, like genetic studies on this species,” he said.

Helmeted muskox were hunted by early First Nations and went extinct about 11,000 years ago, Zazula said.

The animals had giant battering rams on their heads, were twice the width of today’s muskox, stood about two feet taller and weighed around 450 kilograms. (CKRW, The Whitehorse Star)

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