It’s a unicorn, but not as we know it

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An artist's impression of Elasmotherium sibiricum. Photo: DiBgd via Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
An artist’s impression of Elasmotherium sibiricum. Photo: DiBgd via Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Unicorns did indeed walk the Earth in the ancient past, but they were more akin to a rhinoceros than a horse.

Scientists have known about the so-called Siberian unicorn, Elasmotherium sibiricum, for more than 200 years through fossil remains, but researchers have just made the startling discovery that the species survived far longer than previously believed.

It was originally thought the species became extinct 350,000 years ago. Now, researchers at Tomsk State University have unearthed evidence that the “unicorn” found its last refuge in Kazakhstan only 29,000 years ago.

An article describing the new location of the fossil mammals in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan was published recently in the American Journal of Applied Science.

“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,” said Andrey Shpanski, a paleontologist at the university.

Tomsk State University paleontologist Andrey Shpanski. Photo: Tomsk State University
Tomsk State University paleontologist Andrey Shpanski. Photo: Tomsk State University

“There is another option that it could migrate and dwell for a while on the more southern areas.”

The conclusions were reached after intensive investigation of a skull from one of the creatures found near Kozhamzhar village, in the Pavlodar region.

The well-preserved skull was radiocarbon-dated at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

It turned out that the skull belonged to an animal that died only 29,000 years ago.

Most likely, it was a very large male of considerable age.

Elasmotherium sibiricum once occupied a vast territory.

The latest discovery shows they continued to survive in the southeast of the West Siberian Plain.

The findings put forth an argument for the mass radiocarbon dating of other mammalian remains of species previously known as ancient and extinct more than 50,000 to 100,000 years ago.

“Our research makes adjustments in the understanding of the environmental conditions in the geologic time in general,” said Shpanski.

“Understanding of the past allows us to make more accurate predictions about natural processes in the near future: it also concerns climate change,” he added.

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