Thursday 31 March 2016

‘The Siberian Unicorn’ roamed free 30,000 years ago

MARCH 29, 2016

by Chuck Bednar

Though considerably different than the majestic, white-colored, horse-like creature they are so often depicted as, unicorns actually did exist, and newly discovered fossilized skull suggests the long-extinct mammals last roamed the Earth less than 30,000 years ago.

According to Yahoo News and ScienceAlert, the species known as Elasmotherium sibiricum or the "Siberian unicorn" more closely resembled a mammoth or a rhinoceros than a horse, stood roughly six to seven feet tall, weighed upwards of 8,000 pounds, and  was covered with fur.

Experts had previously believed that the not-quite-fairy-tail-like creature became extinct around 350,000 years ago, but radiocarbon dating of a well-preserved skull found in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan revealed that the animal actually lived as recently as 29,000 years ago.

Researchers at Tomsk State University in Siberia, who dated the newfound fossil, reported in the latest edition of the American Journal of Applied Sciences that the size and condition of the fossil suggests that it most likely belonged to a male Siberian unicorn of advanced age.

So how did the unicorn manage to survive for so long?
Lead author Andrey Shpanski, a paleontologist at Tomsk State, and his colleagues believe that the Siberian unicorn lived in a refuge-like region in the south of Western Siberia, allowing it to remain alive and well thousands of years after the majority of its relatives died off.

Shpanski said in a statement that his team is hoping to discover what environmental factors may have played a role in the species extinction, and whether or not migration helped keep them alive up that point – data which could be useful in dealing with modern-day climate change.

Their research, he said, “makes adjustments in the understanding of the environmental conditions in the geologic time in general. Understanding of the past allows us to make more accurate predictions about natural processes in the near future.” The hope is that their work will be able to shed new light on exactly how environmental factors contribute to extinction in general.

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