A 29,000 year old well-preserved fossilized Elasmotherium sibiricu is in the news not because Elasmotherium sibiricu is a new discovery but because they were thought to have gone extinct 350,000 years ago. Science writers were scrambling to figure out a way to make the story more interesting so they created headlines like “Researchers find remains of ‘Siberian unicorn’”. CNN tweeted the following:
News stories obviously tied the 29,000 year old Elasmotherium sibiricu to unicorns because of the single horn growing out of it’s forehead but also because it would have been around at the same time as relatively modern humans who, in theory, could have passed on one-horned animal stories throughout the past 29,000 years. Elasmotherium sibiricu and early man actually co-existed 350,000 years ago and prior so there could have been hundreds of thousands of years of “unicorn” stories passed on. In reality, the Elasmotherium sibiricu looks a lot more like a hairy rhino with a sharpened log coming out of it’s forehead than a single-horned horse.
So how did this pocket of Elasmotherium sibiricu survive so long? According to Tomsk State University scientist Andrei Shpansky, “Most likely, the south of Western Siberia was a [refuge], where this rhino had preserved the longest in comparison with the rest of the range.” The investigative team is hoping the new fossil discovery will help them determine environmental factors which affected their eventual extinction. Shpansky relates his research to modern times, “Understanding of the past allows us to make more accurate predictions about natural processes in the near future.”