|"Blue Babe", a mummified specimen from Alaska|
The steppe bison or steppe wisent (Bison priscus) is an extinct species of bison that was once found on the mammoth steppe where its range included Europe, Central Asia, Northern to Northeastern Asia, Beringia, and North America, from northwest Canada to Mexico during the Quaternary. The radiocarbon dating of a steppe bison skeleton indicates that it was present 5,400 years ago in Alaska. Three chronological subspecies, Bison priscus priscus, Bison priscus mediator, and Bison priscus gigas, have been suggested.
The steppe bison is believed to have evolved from Bison paleosinensis in South Asia, which means the species appeared at roughly the same time and region as the aurochs (Bos primigenius) with which its descendants are sometimes confused. The steppe bison was eventually contemporaneous with the Pleistocene woodland bison (B. schoetensacki) and the European bison (Bison bonasus) in Europe, Leptobison in Japan, and the long-horned bison (Bison latifrons) in North America.
The steppe bison became extinct possibly in the middle to the late Holocene, as it was replaced in Europe by the modern European bison (B. bonasus), which is likely a hybrid between B. priscus and the Bos primigenius, and in America by a sequence of several species (such as Bison antiquus and Bison occidentalis) culminating in the modern American bison (Bison bison). European cave paintings appear to depict both B. bonasus and B. priscus.
Resembling the modern bison species, especially the American wood bison (Bison bison athabascae), the steppe bison was over 2 m tall at the withers, reaching 900 kg (2,000 lb) in weight. The tips of the horns were a meter apart, the horns themselves being over half a meter long.
Blue Babe is the 36,000-year-old mummy of a male steppe bison which was discovered north of Fairbanks, Alaska, in July 1979. The mummy was noticed by a gold miner who named the mummy Blue Babe – "Babe" for Paul Bunyan's mythical giant ox, permanently turned blue when he was buried to the horns in a blizzard (Blue Babe's own bluish cast was caused by a coating of vivianite, a blue iron phosphate covering much of the specimen). Blue Babe is also frequently referenced when talking about scientists eating their own specimens: the research team that was preparing it for permanent display in the University of Alaska Museum removed a portion of the mummy's neck, stewed it, and dined on it to celebrate the accomplishment.
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- Cloning ancient extinct bison sounds like sci-fi, but scientists hope to succeed within years