In Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, he recounts how deep in a European cave, a strange ritual display was discovered. It had lain untouched for thirty thousand years. A Cave Bear’s skull with femurs jutting from the eye sockets, stood on a stone table. The scene resembled a shrine. Archeologists and anthropologists believe it reflects an ancient religion, a Cult of the Cave Bear.
Which makes sense, considering that in order to set up shop in an Ice Age cave, Neandertals often had to deal with a resident bear. Either drive it out, or kill it. When they reared up, Cave Bears stood eleven feet tall. Big ones weighed 2,200 pounds. In the Chauvet cave in southern France, 190 such skulls have been found, many placed on those flat stone tables by ancient hands.
So I was excited to read that a fully preserved Pleistocene Cave Bear, complete with fur and flesh, teeth and lips, was just discovered by Siberian deer herders. Its snout and head juts from the melting permafrost.
To be so well preserved, its death must have been sudden. Perhaps a flood of silt-laden water that completely buried it all at once, and then a weather change that froze it solid.
It’s a fantastic find for biologists. Even its internal organs are intact. The only downside is why it was revealed. The permafrost is melting so fast, its head didn’t even have a chance to decompose.