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The Last Siberian Unicorn Was Neither Horselike Nor Mythological

The Last Siberian Unicorn Was Neither Horselike Nor Mythological

Scientists have discovered the fossilized remains of a prehistoric animal known as the “Siberian unicorn.” Before your imagination conjures up images of fleet-footed, horse-like creatures majestically galloping across the open plains with their magical horns leading the way, you should know that the “Siberian unicorn” probably looked more like a massive, shaggy rhinoceros. That’s no reason to be disappointed, however, since this latest discovery provides evidence that Elasmotherium sibiricum was still walking the Earth as recently as 29,000 years ago, much later than the previously agreed-upon extinction date of around 350,000 years ago.

The find is obviously important for establishing a new timeline for this species, but also serves to remind us how important it is to continue the research and recovery of fossils. The well-preserved skull, found in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan by Tomsk State University researchers and chronicled in an American Journal of Applied Sciences article, “exceeds in size the skull of the mammals from Eastern Europe” but is also “well comparable with the skulls of Elasmotherium sibiricum.”

To give you an idea of the size of this creature, they stood over six-and-a-half feet tall at the shoulders and were 15 feet long, weighing in at 8,000 pounds.

Size of ”Paraceratherium” compared to rhinos and human.

But a fossilized horn has yet to be found. Since the Elasmotherium genus is a member of the Rhinocerotidae family, and this family is characterized in part by the presence of hooves (and most often horns) made of keratin–the same substance that composes hair and fingernails in humans–only circumstantial evidence for the “Siberian unicorn’s” horn exists. This evidence comes by way of a frontal protuberance on the skull, which paleontologists have long interpreted as the basis for a horn. Couple this line of thinking with the newly derived timeline for Elasmotherium sibirium, and the mythology of ancient Siberian Tatars, which told of an animal’s horn so large that a sledge was required to move it, starts to become clearer. However, while there is some evidence that Paleolithic humans may have been living in Siberia around the time of this “last unicorn,” it’s more likely that the remains of these animals served as the inspiration for their legends.

Also discovered at this fossil site were remains of the steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii or Mammuthus armeniacus), the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) and prehistoric bison species. But if you’re disappointed that you didn’t get to see the unicorn you were promised, enjoy this bit from “The Last Unicorn” as our GIFt to you:

the-last-unicorn

HT: US News

Images: Paleo Blog, DagdaMor, Rankin/Bass Productions

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