The good news for creationists is that unicorns really did exist - well, for one very loose definition of unicorns which is so loose as to include rhinoceroses but at least creationists can cling to this small crumb of comfort.
The problem is, the last one seems to have died out about 29,000 years ago, some 20,000 years before Earth was created - created according to creationist dogma, that is!
News of this discovery was published a few days ago with open access in the American Journal of Applied Sciences by a combined team from Tomsk University, Tomsk, Russia and Pavlodar State Pedagogical Institute, Pavlodar, Kazakhstan.
The interesting thing from a scientific perspective is not that these ancient large mammals existed and roamed the steppes of Central Asia but that they seem to have hung on for much longer than was formerly thought, possibly in refúgia in Kazakhstan where this specimen was found. They had previously been thought to have died out some 350,000 years ago based on the age of the then most recent fossil.
The resemblance of this species (Elasmotherium sibiricum) to the unicorn of creationism and other fairy stories is confined only to the fact that they both had a horn on their forehead. E. sibiricum was heavily built, more like a wooly rhinoceros than a horse and differing from the rhinoceros only in that its horn wasn't on its nose. These well-preserved skull fragments from what appears to have been a male of great age were found associated with the lower jaw and teeth of two different species of elephant and the bones of a bison.
They were found in deposits in the alluvial floodplain of the Irtysh River, in an outcrop now some 300-500 metres from the river bed. This river frequently yields up mid-pleistocene bone fragments in washouts as it forms new meanders. It is hoped that studying them will provide information about how this pleistocene megafauna managed to survive in this area while, presumably due to climate change, it was becoming extinct elsewhere in its former range. One alternative to the idea of refúgia in remote areas is that of seasonal migration to these southern latitudes.
It must be disappointing to creationists to discover that one of the creatures which is embarrassing for them by its absence outside fairy tales, had a real life counterpart of sorts, then to discover that it really was nothing like their imaginary magic animal. To make matters worse, it is actually being used to study how an animal can adapt to environmental change and evolve to meet local conditions. But still, a small crumb of comfort is better than nothing, maybe. At least they have a picture to point to when people laugh at their belief in unicorns.
Andrei Valerievich Shpansky, Valentina Nurmagаmbetovna Aliyassova and Svetlana Anatolievna Ilyina
The Quaternary Mammals from Kozhamzhar Locality (Pavlodar Region, Kazhakstan)
American Journal of Applied Sciences 2016, 13 (2): 189.199 DOI: 10.3844/ajassp.2016.189.199
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