Unicorns Really Exist(ed)

Unicorns Really Exist(ed)

Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson

Yes, you read that right. Unicorns aren’t just the stuff of magical fantasies. Around 36 000 years ago, the unicorn walked this Earth.

Now, you may be imagining an animal that excretes rainbows, prancing along on pony hooves with a horn that spouts stardust. I’m afraid there is no evidence of this kind of unicorn in existence. Instead, researchers have shed light on the Siberian unicorn; a giant, shaggy Ice Age rhinoceros.



An artist’s impression of Elasmotherium. © W. S. Van der Merwe/Natural History Museum


An international team made up of researchers from Adelaide, Sydney, London, the Netherlands and Russia have settled a long-standing debate about the Siberian unicorn’s relationship to existing rhinos. Their findings, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, have revealed that the Siberian unicorn survived much later than previously believed, overlapping in time with modern humans.

It is believed that the Siberian unicorn became extinct around 36 000 years ago due to climate change reducing the steppe grassland where it lived. It, along with 244 other species of rhino, are no longer with us today. Sporting a single, massive horn (hence the name), the Siberian unicorn weighed up to 3.5 tonnes and roamed the steppe of Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Northern China.

Genetic analyses performed at the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) have shown that the Siberian unicorn was the last surviving member of a unique family of rhinos. Co-author and ACAD researcher Dr Kieren Mitchell said:

“The ancestors of the Siberian unicorn split from the ancestors of all living rhinos over 40 million years ago. That makes the Siberian unicorn and the African white rhino even more distant cousins than humans are to monkeys.” (Phys Org)

Previous studies into this incredible animal had assumed that the Siberian unicorn became extinct well before the last Ice Age. This new research, using the first ever DNA sample recovered from E. sibiricum as well as bone samples confirmed that the unicorn’s final days were much later than previously thought.

So the next time your son, daughter, niece or nephew points out a piece of unicorn-themed consumer-wear, you can explain that it is entirely possible that their great-great-great, probably too many greats to write, grandmother or father could very easily have met a real-life unicorn. Dreams really can come true.


Lead photo by Wilmer Martinez on Unsplash

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