In case you thought unicorns weren’t real, we are here to tell you that you are wrong. Long ago, there lived a rather strange-looking mammal called the Siberian unicorn. Believed to have been extinct for the last 350,000 years, it resembled a rhino more than a horse. As part of a recent research, archaeologists have come across an excellently-preserved skull that seems to suggest that these incredible creatures roamed the Earth as recently as 29,000 years ago.
The Siberian unicorn, scientifically known as Elasmotherium sibiricum, is nothing like the adorable mythological horse we have all grown up reading about in fantasy novels. Measuring around 2 meters in height, the real unicorn was huge and shaggy, and looked like a rhino except for the pointed horn protruding from its forehead. It was nearly 4.5 meters in length and, weighed up to 4 tonnes. Thanks to its hefty built, it was closer in stature to a woolly mammoth than a horse.
The animal was a herbivore, feeding primarily on grass. Up until now, it was believed that the Siberian unicorn became extinct 350,000 years ago. According to a new study, however, the assumption might be way off. While working at the Pavlodar area of Kazakhstan, a team of paleontologists from Russia’s Tomsk State University recently stumbled across a remarkably well-preserved fossilized skull of the creature. When analysed using radiocarbon dating techniques, the bone remains were found to be around 29,000 years old. Andrey Shpanski, a member of the team, said:
The sample was found near the settlement of Kozhamzhar; it is a skull fragment of Elasmotherium sibiricum – an ancient rhinoceros. I sent a piece of the skull to the Queen’s University Belfast laboratory for the radiocarbon analysis. Elasmotherium is considered extinct about 350,000 years ago, and the age of this skull is 29,000 years.
As the team points out, the skull likely belonged to a very old, male Siberian unicorn, whose cause of death is still unknown. The discovery, the researchers believe, raises questions as to how this animal survived hundreds of thousands of years after its relatives had died. Speaking about the find, recently published in the American Journal of Applied Science, Shpanski added:
Most likely, the south of Western Siberia was a refúgium, where this rhino persevered the longest in comparison with the rest of its range. There is another possibility that it could migrate and dwell for a while in the more southern areas.
According to the researchers, the discovery could enhance our understanding of the specific environmental factors that facilitated the creature’s extinction as well as the role that migration played in ensuring the animal’s survival. The research, the team hopes, could go so far as to help us protect our own species from extinction.
Image Credits: Metro Vaartha