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Porcupines lived in Siberia until 30,000 years ago, shows new research

By The Siberian Times reporter
24 February 2017

Now the prickly rodent lives no closer than 2,000 kilometres away, but its remains - recently dated - are scattered in caves of the Altai Mountains.

The porcupines were of the Old World type. Picture: WillemSvdMerwe

Around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago the most northerly outpost of porcupines lived in the Altai Mountains, but not in other regions of Siberia. The findings come from radiocarbon dating of teeth and bones at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

While there have been discoveries of porcupine remains over a number of decades, including by famous Siberian paleontologist Nikolai Ovodov, it is the first time they have been reliably dated. 

Dr Yaroslav Kuzmin, senior researcher at the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy in Novosibirsk, said: 'If there was previously no doubt that the bones and teeth belonged to this species, the question of the age of the finds remained open until recently.'   

Bones


Teeth

Bones and teeth of porcupine found in Altai caves in different years. Pictures: Yaroslav Kuzmin

The discovery shows the so-called quill pig 'living far beyond its current range', with the closest habitat now India. 'Altai was a refugium for the porcupine, although it did not live in neighbouring regions of Siberia,' he said.  

'It has been firmly established that porcupines lived in Razboinichya cave 30,000 years ago and Strashnaya cave 40,000 years ago. This was the time of so called Karginsky interstage, a period between two glacial eras.'

Maximum cooling came 27,000 years ago and the natural environment of the Altai Mountains changed. 

'There were fewer forests, more areas of grasses and shrubs, a decreased air temperature and less rainfall. As a result, the porcupine - as a relatively thermophilic species - disappeared from the region.'

Map


Razboinichya Cave


Strashnaya Cave

'It was firmly established that porcupines lived in Razboinichya cave 30,000 years ago and Strashnaya cave 40,000 years ago.' Pictures: The Siberian Times, Yaroslav Kuzmin, Andrey Krivoshapkin

Evidence is also known on porcupines in the Ural Mountains, but this was 100,000 to 130,000 years ago. The porcupines were of the Old World type, so not the same as those living now in North and South America. 

The research was published in Quaternary Science Reviews. 

The research involved scientists from the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography (both are from the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences), and the Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology, and Institute of Geological Sciences (both from the Ural Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences), and the University of Arizona.

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