You probably think that unicorns are fantasy creatures that exist only in the pages of children’s fairy tales, but wait! It seems that after all, they are quite real as a new study suggests that unicorn-like creatures lived on our planet as recently as 29,000 years ago (it may sound like a while, but in fact, it’s quite a short period in the history of the Earth).
However, these ancient unicorns were nothing like those from fantasy books. In reality, they resembled modern rhinos, only that they were covered in dense wool and had a long horn on their forehead.
Elasmotherium sibiricum, or the so-called “Siberian unicorn,” was approximately 2 meters (6 feet) tall and 4.5 meters (15 feet) long while its weight was about 4 tons (9,000 pounds). Thus, in terms of size, this animal was closer to a mammoth than a horse.
Just like its modern-day counterpart, the Siberian unicorn was most likely a grazer and feasted with grass. Its natural habitat was the vast area that extends from the Don River to the east of modern Kazakhstan.
This ancient species has been long familiar to scientists; however, until now, it was thought that Siberian unicorns became extinct about 350,000 years ago. The recent discovery of a well-preserved skull in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan shed new light on this intriguing species.
Using radiocarbon dating techniques, researchers at the Tomsk State University managed to determine that the age of the skull was approximately 29,000 years. It was also found that it probably belonged to an old male, but there were not enough data to establish the cause of the animal’s death. The results of the research have been published in the American Journal of Applied Science.
These findings made the researchers wonder how it was possible that this creature survived for hundreds of thousands of years longer than most of its kind. Andrey Shpanski, a paleontologist at Tomsk State University who took part in the study, said in the press release:
“Most likely, in the south of Western Siberia, it was a refúgium, where this rhino had preserved the longest in comparison with the rest of its range. There is another option that it could migrate and dwell for a while on the more southern areas.”
The researchers now want to study other mammals that went extinct between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago to learn more about the role of the environmental conditions in species extinction. Moreover, further research could reveal valuable information not only about the past of our planet but also its future and possibly predict what awaits our own species.
“Our research makes adjustments in the understanding of the environmental conditions in the geologic time in general. Understanding of the past allows us to make more accurate predictions about natural processes in the near future: it also concerns climate change,” Shpanski said.
Image credit: Wikimedia
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