Unicorns were real, but they looked nothing like the elegant, shimmering horse-like creatures of fairy tales. Rather, Elasmotherium sibiricum, or the ‘Siberian unicorn,’ was shaggy and closer to the size of a steppe mammoth, which is even bigger than a woolly mammoth. Whatever its appearance, scientists from Tomsk State University recently discovered that it lived far more recently than we previously thought.
Scientists used to date the mammal’s extinction back to 350,000 years ago, and it roamed from the Don River in Russia to east of Kazakhstan. Yet a new fossilized skull found in Kazakhstan provided new insight into the life of the mysterious creature. AMS Radiocarbon dating revealed the skull was only around 29,000 years old.
Paleontologist Andrey Shpanski, one of the writers of the paper detailing the find, explained the skull was found in a location where the Siberian unicorn would have migrated. He said,“Most likely, the south of Western Siberia was a refúgium, where this rhino persevered the longest in comparison with the rest of its range”.
The scientists believe this indicates the animal may have migrated to survive as yet unknown environmental factors, and they think understanding why it migrated and then went extinct may have implications for our approach to climate change today.
“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.”
The scientists believe the skull belonged to a large, older male. They also found fossils from steppe mammoths, woolly mammoths, and bison in the area.
Via Science Alert