But X-ray scans have revealed that this grapefruit-sized lump is a 30,000-year-old mummified ground squirrel from the ice age.
A gold miner found the mysterious fur ball in 2018 in the Klondike gold fields near Dawson City, Yukon, according to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre.
“It’s not quite recognizable until you see these little hands and these claws, and you see a little tail, and then you see ears,” Grant Zazula, a Yukon government paleontologist, told CBC in March.
He took it to Jess Heath, a veterinarian, for further investigation. Heath conducted X-ray scans that revealed that the frozen hair ball was a young, curled-up Arctic ground squirrel. It likely died in hibernation, possibly during its first year.
“We could see that it was in great condition and it was just curled up like it was sleeping,” Heath told CBC.
“I’m really impressed that someone recognized it for what it was. From the outside, it just kind of looks like a brown blob. It looks a bit like a brown rock,” she said.
The Klondike gold fields of the Yukon have been covered in permafrost — frozen soil — since the ice age. That makes the area perfect for preserving creatures that died back then — hair, nails, and all.
Gold miners there have previously found a mummified wolf pup and an immaculately preserved baby mammoth.
Discoveries like these are likely to become more common as global temperatures continue to rise due to human emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and methane. That’s causing the permafrost to thaw, revealing everything from mummified creatures to viruses and anthrax deposits.