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There are few creatures surrounded by more mystery, wonder, and fascination than unicorns. Some say they existed and then died out. Others insist unicorns are nothing more than a myth; a creation of human imagination.
So, what exactly is the truth? Did unicorns once walk the planet? Well, kind of.
“According to a study published last month in the American Journal of Applied Science, a species called Elasmotherium sibiricum — the ‘Siberian unicorn’ — went extinct much later than previously thought. Researchers from Tomsk State University believe they’ve found fossil evidence of a Siberian unicorn prancing around just 29,000 years ago — more than 300,000 years after they were thought to have gone extinct.”
Granted, what you see above looks more like a rhino than a unicorn, but he does have one heck of a horn sprouting from his head, which makes him a form of unicorn. As Ancient Origins notes, the Siberian unicorn was a massive animal:
“The E. sibiricum , was the size of a mammoth, covered in hair, and is thought to have had a large horn protruding from its forehead, hence the title ‘Siberian Unicorn.’ According to early estimated descriptions, the beast stood around 2 meters (6.56 ft.) tall, 4.5 meters (14.76 ft.) long, and weighted an impressive 4 tons.”
Searching for Proof
For hundreds of years, the only evidence to prove that such a creature existed was a jawbone unearthed in 1808 by Johan Fischer von Waldheim, the Dirécteur Perpétuel of the Natural History Museum at Moscow University. This allowed for the species to be named.
The search for more proof took place in vain until March of 2016, when an entire fossilized skull was found:
“In March 2016, a beautifully preserved skull was found in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan proving that the animal lived until the Pleistocene era, some 29,000 years ago, instead of the previously held belief that they had died out 350,000 years ago. Based on the size and condition of the skull, it has been suggested that it was a very old male, but it is uncertain how the beast died.”
Throughout history, in nearly every culture, the idea of unicorns has existed:
“Legends of the unicorn, or a beast with a single horn, have been around for millennia in China and Eastern Europe. The Chinese ‘K’i-lin,’referring to some sort of beast, was translated into Turkish and Mongolic languages and lore. While the writers in all these languages did not know how to describe the beast, one common theme was the single horn, along with their vast stature.”
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And it appears that the Siberian unicorn may well have been the creature that piqued the interest of mankind over the centuries.
In 1866, Vasily Radlov was told about a legend among the Yakut people of Siberia of a “huge black bull” that had been felled by a single spear. The creature was said to be so massive that its body had to be transported on a sled. And there are similar legends in the area which include “a large white or blue woolly bull” that had a horn protruding from its forehead.
In Russia, ballads were written about the Siberian unicorn:
“From medieval Northern Russia comes a collection of ballads, called ‘Golubinaia kniga’ or ‘The Book of the Dove,’ coming from Zoroastrianism, but with Christian overtones. These ballads show a righteous unicorn battling a lion, representing lies. The unicorn of these tales lived in a Holy mountain, and it was believed to be the mother and father of all animals. This creature saved the world from drought by digging springs of pure and clean water with its horn. At night, it wandered the plains and forged a path with that very same horn.”
The same creature also makes an appearance in other religious texts, but usually in a symbolic fashion instead of as a real entity.:
“The Arabo-Persian word for unicorn actually conflates unicorn and rhinoceros, looking to the rhinoceros as a bringer of truth and good in the world. In Christianity, the single horn is seen as a symbol of monotheism.”
What Became of the Siberian Unicorn?
Since we have fossil evidence that proves a large beast with a single horn was indeed real, that begs the question: What happened to these creatures. Unfortunately, answers to that question are as shrouded in mystery as unicorns themselves:
“Residue findings show a long habitation of these ancient rhinos in the southeast of the West Siberian Plain. However, there is no clear reason why the final Siberian unicorns died out. Researchers have been looking into the specific environmental factors that may have caused the extinction of this species, as it may lead to answers to the extinction facing various species today.”
More research and more discoveries are necessary if we are to ever fully understand and appreciate the one unicorn that did likely make an appearance on Earth.
Here’s more on the Siberian unicorn:
Featured Image Via HOY