American Cave Lion
Graphical reconstruction of Panthera leo atrox – the 'American lion' – based on bony structure and paleontological texts. Atrox is one of three known species of 'cave lions' that hunted in the Stone Age and Ice Age Sergiodlarosa/Wikimedia

Scientists are hoping to use revolutionary new DNA techniques to bring a species of Ice Age cave that roamed the Eearth 12,000 years ago back to life. In August 2015, the remains of two lion cubs, named Uyan and Dina, were found frozen and practically unspoilt in the remote Sakha Republic in Russia's north-west.

The pair are considered the best remaining examples of the big cat species. They are so well preserved because of their submersion in permafrost. Now researchers hope to find living tissues inside the remains, which will hopefully contain DNA allowing them to recreate the lions – last seen in Pleistocene times.

The project is a joint venture by Russian and South Korean scientists at the Joint Foundation of Molecular Paleontology at North East Russia University in the city of Yakutsk. They will use one of the cubs for the cloning process whilst the other will be kept in a museum.

A Beginner's Guide to Cave Lions

Once widespread from the British Isles to Eastern Russia, Alaska and Canada, Cave lions, or Panthera spelaea (Goldfuss), lived during the Middle and Late Pleistocene times.

Cave lions are believed to have had few predators, and were smaller than most herbivores.

An autopsy could help to explain why the species died out around 10,000 years ago. One theory is a decline in deer and cave bears, their prey, caused their demise.

Despite the name it is highly unlikely the cave lion lived in caves. It received its name because large quantities of remains are found in caves.

The cave lions were discovered 650 miles northeast of Yakutsk, in Yakutia. The varying levels of the Uyandina River led to cracks appearing in the ice with eagle-eyed local resident Yakov Androsov spotting an ice lens with the lion cubs sitting inside.

Dr Albert Protopopov, head of the mammoth fauna studies department of the Yakutian Academy of Sciences, said according to the Siberian Times: "This find, beyond any doubt, is sensational. The cubs are complete with all their body parts: fur, ears, soft tissue and even whiskers. Together with the Mammoth Museum, we took samples for cell research.

"Comparing with modern lion cubs, we think that these two were very small, maybe a week or two old. The eyes were not quite open, they have baby teeth and not all had appeared."

South Korean cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk, who is already conducting pioneering research work to bring the extinct woolly mammoth back to life, took samples of one of the cave lion cubs in a recent visit to the university. And an autopsy of the animal is due to be held later in 2016.