A 'Siberian Unicorn' Roamed the Earth Until 29,000 Years Ago, Scientists Say

DiBgd, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
DiBgd, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 / DiBgd, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Thousands of years ago, a real-life unicorn roamed the Earth, and as scientists have just discovered, it lived hundreds of thousands of years more recently than we thought.

Elasmotherium sibiricum was a “Siberian unicorn” that looked more like a hairy rhinoceros than a fantastical equine dream. Its horn was long and huge in contrast to the rhinos of today, and it stood more than 6 feet tall and 14 feet long (making it as big as a mammoth). Much like their contemporary counterparts, the beasts likely feasted on mostly grass.

Researchers from Tomsk State University recently discovered a well-preserved skull of Elasmotherium sibiricum in the Pavlodar region of northeastern Kazakhstan. Using radiocarbon dating techniques, they dated the specimen to around 29,000 years ago—a notable departure from previous evidence suggesting that the species died out around 350,000 years ago. The study was published recently in the American Journal of Applied Science.

The giant rhinoceros featured in the study was likely an older male, and its cause of death is unknown. In a press statement, paleontologist Andrey Shpanski says that the ancient animal may have found refuge in the region, which is located in southwest Siberia, allowing it to survive longer than other rhinos.

The team now plans to date other mammals believed to have gone extinct between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. They hope that by better understanding the environmental conditions that may have led to extinction in the past, they might be able to make more accurate predictions about the future. 

[h/t Science Alert]