Ice Age Wolf Skull; ‘Game Of Thrones’ Real-Life Dire Wolf Remains Being Examined [VIDEO]

on April 17, 2013 3:05 PM EDT

Ice Age Wolf Skull Game of Thrones Dire Wolves
The skull of a dire wolf, like those featured on "Game of Thrones," is being studied by researchers in Iowa. (Photo: Creative Commons)

An ice age wolf skull examined by medical staff at Cherokee Regional Medical Center in Iowa on Friday belongs to a 10,000-year-old specimen of dire wolf, a hulking prehistoric beast made famous by their portrayal in the popular HBO series "Game of Thrones." The ice age wolf skull received a CT scan from researchers in an effort to extrapolate valuable data from the sample in order to create a more comprehensive picture of the anatomy of the dire wolf.

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"The data can be used by researchers to look at brain morphology, pathologies, and to have a very detailed basically picture or map of the skull itself," archaeologist Jason Titcomb told KCAU. He said that the ice age wolf skull was found in a quarry site that was used in the 1950s

Dire wolves populated all of North America and parts of south America during the Late Pleistocene period, but there are only 136 fossils sites known today, according to the San Diego Zoo. Because of their rarity, the ice age wolf skull will not only give researchers the chance to ascertain key physical characteristics about the dire wolf but will also provide them with the opportunity to catalogue that data for perpetual research in the future.

"It's going to do very minimal damage, but by doing the CT scan, we've got an overall picture and that picture we'll have forever. Even if something tragic would happen, we still have that data," Titcomb said.

The "Game of Thrones" dire wolves, named Grey Wind, Lady, Nymeria, Summer, Shaggydog and Ghost, have rekindled interest in the species. So much so that an obscure breeding effort known as the Dire Wolf Project has risen to prominence because it offers fans the chance to own their very own dire wolf. Or, at least, a dog breed that resembles the prehistoric dire wolf. The ice age wolf skull came from a species of dire wolf that is markedly different than the ones portrayed on the show. A statement on the website reminds curious dire wolf fans that what they see on "Game of Thrones" is fiction. The real-life dire wolf, like the one that provided the ice age wolf skull, was not the same animal.

"The series is a bit misleading in its interpretation of the Dire Wolf. The wolves portrayed in the Game of Thrones series do not resemble Dire Wolves and should not be confused with Dire Wolf size and build. Some of the most obvious features lacking in the wolves deemed to be Dire Wolves are that they possess thin muzzles, legs, and bodies. While this is indicative of the more fleet of foot Gray Wolf, it does not reflect the size and mass of the Dire Wolf build. The Dire Wolf had shorter, thicker legs as well as a larger head and broader muzzle," states the Dire Wolf Project website.

A sample will be taken from the ice age wolf skull so researchers can carbon date it and determine the relative age of the specimen. And a 3D model of the dire wolf head based on the ice age wolf skull will give researchers the chance to learn a great deal about the species.

"This is a chance of a lifetime," said Titcomb.

Here’s a look at one of “Game of Thrones” dire wolves in action:

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