"Siberian Unicorn" Went Extinct Much Later Than We Thought

First published restoration (1878) of E. sibiricum by Rashevsky under supervision of A.F. Brant. Wikimedia
Janet Fang 28/03/2016, 17:01

Researchers working in Kazakhstan report a new fossil site called the Kozhamzhar Locality, which contains the remains of massive mammals including mammoths, steppe elephants, prehistoric bison, and a giant rhinoceros called Elasmotherium sibiricum – which may have inspired the legend of the unicorn. According to findings published in American Journal of Applied Sciences, radiocarbon dating of the extinct rhino bones suggests the species died off tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of years later than we thought. 

Tomsk State University’s Andrei Shpansky and colleagues studied about 20 fossilized mammal teeth and bones uncovered from an 8-kilometer (5-mile) section of the left bank of the Irtysh River near Kozhamzhar in the Pavlodar Priirtysh Region of Kazakhstan. Residents of Kozhamzhar village have previously found bone fragments in the downstream outcrop, part of which has already been washed away. In fact, the fossils studied here were collected by locals in the late 1980s and brought to the Museum of Nature at Pavlodar State Pedagogical Institute in 2010.

Additionally, the team analyzed the Elasmotherium skull using AMS radiocarbon dating. This yielded a young age of 26,038 (plus or minus 356) years before present, with a calibration age ranging from 28,985 to 27,490 BCE. Not only are these Elasmotherium skulls bigger than that of eastern European elasmotheriums, these giant rhinos also existed for longer in the southeast of the West Siberian Plain.

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