When we hear the word ‘Unicorn’, we usually think of magical fantasy creatures. However, they aren’t completely imaginary. They did exist on Earth and did not resemble the beautiful animals in fairytales at all.
Originally, these single-horned animals were thought to have lived an incredibly long time ago. However, the latest research suggests that they aren’t ‘that’ old. In fact, research scientists have recently discovered that early humans and unicorns inhabited the Earth at the same time.
Siberian unicorns, also identified as Elasmotherium sibiricum, were vastly different from the gorgeous creatures in your head. In fact, they appeared more or less like furry rhinos, with a large horn on their head.
Earlier, scientists have concluded that Siberian unicorns underwent extinction 350,000 years ago. But, due to the discovery of a well-preserved skull in Kazakhstan, this number had to be reduced to a great extent. According to the latest evidence, Siberian unicorns were roaming the planet just 29,000 years ago, suggesting that they existed even at the time of early humans. Paleontologist Andrey Shpanski of Tomsk State University claims that this newly discovered skull belongs to a large male Siberian unicorn.
As stated by researchers, Siberian rhinos were vegetarians and weighed up to 4 tons. Also, they grew up to 2 meters in height, and 5 meters in length, on average. The reason for scientists to believe that these animals were vegetarians is their rodent-like teeth.
What’s The Process Of Dating Something This Old?
So how did researchers conclude that their initial guess for the Siberian unicorn’s age was wrong? The answer is radiocarbon dating using Carbon-14 isotope.
In this process, a specimen’s age can be determined using the amount of Carbon-14 contained in it. Therefore, firstly scientists should prepare bone samples with enough collagen to be used. Fortunately, 23 out of 25 samples fulfilled this requirement. Then these are analyzed using radiocarbon dating.
Carbon-14 is a radioactive isotope that naturally forms in green plants and herbivores. The carbon-14 starts to decay at a steady rate once the animal dies. Therefore, scientists can check the amount of C-14 left in bones and estimate how long ago the animal died.
The latest radiocarbon dating results of unicorn rhinos suggested that these animals existed 39,000 years ago in Eurasia. This means that they were co-existing with humans and Neanderthals. The research team also emphasized that the reason for their extinction was climate change during that time.
But Were They Really Unicorns?
There’s no actual evidence to support the fact that these animals had horns. Although the reconstruction of the animal features a prominent horn, no real fossil evidence supports it. According to Adrian Lister, a research scientist at the Earth Sciences Department in the Natural history Museum, UK, the prominent horn-like structure is made of compressed hair that has decayed. However, the evidence for a huge bony mass on their heads suggests that a massive horn was present at one time.
For now, scientists can only take guesses. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.