If there’s a mythological creature which has stood the test of time, and which has really come into its own as far as pop culture is concerned, it’s the unicorn. The one-horned horse of legend can now be seen splashed across all manner of clothing, bags, posters, phone cases and more besides – not to mention the fact that there are one or two popular drinks inspired by the creature – but where has the mania for sparkling, glittery unicorns come from? While we may never know for sure, new evidence suggests that a very different type of unicorn – one which may have helped to propagate the myth – may have walked the Earth with humans in our very distant past.
According to BBC Science News, scientists have discovered further evidence that a colossal rhino – being referred to as the ‘Siberian unicorn’ – existed up to 39,000 years ago, at a time where it would have been able to traverse the lands and grasses of Eurasia, at around the same time that early humans – in their modern form – will have existed alongside. The four-and-a-half ton beast was marked by its incredible singular horn – while artist mock-ups suggest it possessed a mighty, thick coat of hair.
DNA Shows ‘Siberian Unicorn’ Roamed Earth with Humans [video]
However, the extinction of the Siberian unicorn remains another mystery entirely. What drove the beast to die out? Scientists, including Professor Adrian Lister leading a recent study, believe it may have died out as a result of having too specialized a diet. In a sense, it was an extremely picky eater!
“It was walking along like a kind of prehistoric lawnmower,” suggests Prof Lister, representing London’s Natural History Museum. “It’s just grazing along the ground.” Following the end of the Ice Age, it seems that the shrinking of grassland may have pushed the unicorn to the brink. Sadly, its demise means the end of a complete line of ancient rhinoceroses, meaning that its history could give us a little more insight as to what to expect from current rhinos in the wild and their future yet to come.
There are only five rhino species alive today – meaning that the need for conservation and preservation has never been fiercer. In our lifetime, we could see this majestic species die out – which means there are also increased efforts into studying their ancient ancestors to learn more about their adapting natures and how they may react to certain environmental and man-made pressures.
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So – a unicorn may well have existed – but is it what you expected – a gargantuan, fuzzy lawnmower? Maybe not – but it was a majestic beast that clearly paved the way for modern rhinos we see today.