Internet headlines report that scientists found the fossil of a real unicorn. Is this the exciting news the cryptozoology community has longed to hear? Or is there more to this story than meets the eye? CryptoVille investigates!
When we think of unicorns, how do we picture them? Predominantly white with gorgeous eyes, a long flowing mane and Clairol-quality tail, right? The magical horn can be carved, twisted, even rainbow colored.
That would be a no. Sadly, calling this creature a unicorn is about as accurate as calling Pee Wee Herman a super hero.
Andrei Valerievich Shpansky, Valentina Nurmagmbetovna Aliyassova, and Svetlana Anatolievna Ilyina, scientists from Tomsk State University in Kazakhstan, found a well preserved skull recently close to Kozhamzhar in the Pavlodar Priirtysh Region.
When analyzed, they saw it was from an Elasmotherium sibiricum (part of the Rhinocerotidae family) but what made this find so special is that it still had the horn intact and in place. Previous finds of E. sibiricum were missing this crucial piece.
Let’s go over some stats:
- Shoulder heights reached 6 ft 7 in (2 m), while it grew 15 ft (4.5 m) long.
- Weight estimated between 4-5 tons
- Rivaled a wooly mammoth in size
- Resembled a rhino much more than a horse
- Unlike rhinos, these creatures had fur
- Herbivores that liked to graze
- Horns were hemispherical in shape with a circumference of 3 feet (.91 m)
- Horns were made of keratin and had blood vessels running through them
The Tatars people of Siberia had legends of a unicorn that weren’t believed by science. But in 1878, when the first E. sibiricum skull was found, the scientists could see the area that looked very much like the base for holding a horn. Artist Rashevsky’s rendering of the creature is shown to the right. The scientific community began to change its mind.
There’s another example where no one listened to the local native people who were right all along. Moving on.
What did E. sibiricum do with that glorious horn? According to Wiki, “[for] defense, attracting mates, driving away competitors, sweeping snow from the grass in winter and digging for water and plant roots.”
Science thought these humongous creatures died out 350,000 years ago. However, when scientists carbon dated this recent find, it only dated back 29,000 years ago. Uh oh! (Image left by sameerprehistorica on Deviant.)
So now begins the theorizing: how could they have survived? One of the scientists, Andrei Shpanski was quoted as saying, “Most likely, the south of Western Siberia was a refugium, where this rhino persevered the longest in comparison with the rest of its range. There is another possibility that it could migrate and dwell for a while in the more southern areas.”
These scientists want to focus more research on determining how this creature survived and what caused it to eventually become extinct. The scientists believe environmental factors came into play and they want to figure out how. I would say figure out “if and how” because a virus could have killed them just as easily as environmental change.
I don’t think so. I find this creature fascinating, don’t you? Here we have a furry rhinoceros that is the size of a wooly mammoth, with a horn whose circumference is 3 freaking feet around! (Image right of a E. sibiricum in a museum.)
What I also love is how it managed to survive so much longer than science originally thought. I think there are other species afoot who have survived longer. Let’s look at a list of those possibilities:
- Siberian Tiger
- Dire Wolf
- Giant Birds
- Sea and Lake “monsters”
If not these exact creatures, than evolved specimens of their family trees.
So let’s not be disappointed. Let’s be glad we found another very special animal that graced our planet.
Fun Fact: Humans have traces of horn morphology in our fingernails and toenails which are made of keratin, just like the Elasmotherium horns. 🙂