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Last Updated: Friday, 7 March 2008, 01:04 GMT
New tests on rare polar bear find
By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website


A polar bear
Today, the polar bear is the world's largest land predator
Scientists hope to unlock secrets contained in the DNA of what are believed to be the only polar bear remains to be found in Britain.

The skull, of which only a part survives, was found at Inchnadamph in the Scottish Highlands in 1927.

Genetics experts at Trinity College in Dublin have now approached the National Museum of Scotland about running tests on its DNA.

The results could reveal what the bear ate and how it came to be in the area.

Dr Ceiridwen Edwards, of Trinity's Smurfit Institute of Genetics, said it may be found that the animal had a terrestrial diet, rather than a marine one, and preyed on reindeer and not seals.

She said the results could also shed light on what it was doing in Assynt 18,000 years ago and reinforce scientists' understanding that it is Britain's only confirmed polar bear find.

The research will involve drilling a small hole in the skull then extracting DNA from the powdered residue.

Several copies of the DNA will be made for a series of tests.

BONE CAVES FACT FILE
Arctic fox, reindeer and tundra vole were among the many remains found
As well as the polar bear, other large predators traced were wolf and northern lynx
Puffin were among bird remains discovered

Dr Andrew Kitchener, curator of birds and mammals at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, where the remains are kept, said to date it was Scotland's only identified resident polar bear.

Radiocarbon dating found the skull was from the peak of the last Ice Age ruling out it was a cave bear, or a brown bear.

It was thought the skull was washed into the Bone Caves at Inchnadamph by melted water.

Protected by environmental protection designations and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the caves have provided scientists with a treasure trove of wild animal remains.

It was also found to be a burial site and the bones of four people found there have been radiocarbon dated to being between 4,515 and 4,720-years-old.

Alex Scott, SNH area officer for West Sutherland and Wester Ross (North), said the caves provided a unique record of Scotland's ancient history, as glaciers during the Ice Age erased many remains buried just below the surface of the ground.

He said: "Everything was scraped away by the ice. The only window in to the past was what went into the caves - so it's a unique record."



SEE ALSO
Ancient polar bear jawbone found
10 Dec 07 |  Science/Nature

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