What is four meters long, 2.5 meters high, weighs 3.5 tons and has a horn too big in the middle of the face? A truly massive unicorn, what is it?
Research published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution has now unveiled the details of the life, history and extinction of a spectacular species called "Siberian Unicorn".
A team of international researchers from various institutions, including the Universities of New South Wales and Adelaide in Australia, the University of Durham in the United Kingdom and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. Bottom, led by leading author Adrian Lister of the London Natural History Museum author Pavel Kosintsev of the Russian Academy of Sciences, broke through the secrets at the bottom of the bones of Elasmotherium sibiricum, extinct member of the rhinoceros family.
E. sibiricum is known as the Siberian Unicorn because of its exceptionally large horn. It was the largest quaternary rhino – about 2.5 million years ago, about 12,000 years ago.
Despite its considerable size, it was flexible and seemed adapted to cover its original countries: Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Western and Central Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, and possibly regions of Mongolia and China.
Until now, E. sibiricum It was thought that the natural extinction that preceded the arrival of humanity had disappeared about 200,000 years ago, and no one really knew what ecosystem niche that was. he lived.
For new work, the researchers sampled 25 examples of E. sibiricum bones, extract collagen for radiocarbon dating and even DNA to study the evolutionary history of the unicorn.
The latter showed that the animal belonged to a taxon related to Rhinocerotinae, a group to which all modern rhinos belong. It was thought that the two men had separated about 35 million years ago, but current research indicates an even older divergence of 47 million years ago.
Radiocarbon dating has yielded surprising results, suggesting that the unicorn was still beating up to 39,000 years ago. This places its extinction "firmly in the late Quaternary extinction event", between 50,000 and 4,000 years ago, in which nearly half of the Eurasian mammal megafauna was off. Interestingly, this adds to the evidence of the decline of megafauna just before the ice sheets of the last ice age reached their maximum extent.
And that could help us understand the reasons for the disappearance of the unicorn.
The shape and isotopes inside the remains of E. sibiricum suggest that he found his home in the steppes covered with herbs and herbs, with extreme adaptation to feed near the ground. Maybe he dug up vegetation to eat roots and everything.
However, from about 35,000 years ago, when the intense cold extended further south, the steppe became more of a tundra, depriving the unicorn of its main food source, which was perhaps a decisive factor in its extinction.
The authors also assume that human beings might have had something to do with it, although they recognize the lack of evidence to support it.
"The extinction of E. sibiricum, "They write," theoretically could have been exacerbated by the pressure of hunting by humans, given the replacement of the H. neanderthalensis by H. sapiens in Eurasia around 45-40 [thousand years ago]".