Although the "Siberian unicorn," also known as the Elasmotherium sibiricum, was thought to have died out around 350,000 years ago, a new study by researchers from Tomsk State University (TSU) reveals that this "unicorn" instead went extinct 29,000 years ago in Kazakhstan.
"Most likely, the south of Western Siberia was a refúgium, where this rhino persevered the longest in comparison with the rest of its range," said Andrey Shpanski, a paleontologist at TSU and first author on the study. "There is another possibility that it could migrate and dwell for a while in the more southern areas."
The team came to their conclusions after examining a rhinoceros skull that was found near Kazakhstan's Kozhamzhar village. Using radiocarbon AMS-method analysis, the team determined that the animal died around 29,000 years ago.
"Most likely, it was a very large male of very large individual age (teeth not preserved)," Shpanski said. "The dimensions of this rhino are the biggest of those described in the literature, and the proportions are typical,"
The Elasmotherium sibiricum - thought to have gone extinct 350,000 years ago - occupied the territory spanning from the Don River all the way to the east of modern Kazakhstan. The residue findings in the current study portray a long habituation of these unique rhinos in the southeast of the West Siberian Plain, and the extinction period is now comparable to the boundary between Kargin thermochron and Sartan cryochron of late Pleistocene in this region.
Shpanski and his team hope the findings will eventually reveal the specific environmental factors that led to the creature's extinction, as well as how they managed to survive so long.
In addition, the team is now suggesting that scientists conduct mass radiocarbon studies on mammalian remains of animals that were previously said to have gone extinct more than 50,000 to 100,000 years ago.
"Our research makes adjustments in the understanding of the environmental conditions in the geologic time in general," Shpanski said. "Understanding of the past allows us to make more accurate predictions about natural processes in the near future-it also concerns climate change."
The findings were published in the February issue of the American Journal of Applied Sciences.