FOUND: The Real Unicorn

Domenichinounicorn Pal Farnese
probably by Domenico Zampieri, c. 1602 (Palazzo Farnese, Rome)

Throughout known history man has told fantastic stories of wonderful creatures and terrifying monsters. There are even depictions of creatures at ancient sites that some argue are representation of dinosaurs or other extinct creatures that supposedly the artisans would have no knowledge of. Of these mythical creatures, one of the most beloved is the unicorn. In modern romanticize versions this majestic creature has all the characters of a horse with a spiral shaped horned. But what is the actual basis for the unicorn?

In the Old Testament of the Bible, there are up to 5 verses that use the word unicorn to describe a beast, either metaphorically or realistically. It is believed that these references refer to an animal more like an oxen, bull or bison with large horns. This would make sense since the bull was a very important animal to most cultures of the time. An animal listed as an unicorn can also be found listed in the natural histories of the ancient world, such as Greece. One example of this would be from Ctesias, who in his book Indika (“On India”) described them as wild asses, fleet of foot, having a horn a cubit and a half (700 mm, 28 inches) in length, and colored white, red and black. And this or similar definitions are found in other Natural Histories of the Ancient World, by greats such as Aristotle, Strabo and Pliny the Elder. However, in spite of these references by respected learned men of the past, most scientists today will laugh at the idea of unicorns being real. This is due to a change in the definition of the original word.

RT_Asian_RhinoThe word unicorn is from the Latin unicornis or unicornium, which means basically a beast with one horn. This is opposed to a bicornis, which is a beast that has two horns. One need only to look at the scientific names of rhinoceros to see that unicorns are scientifically real. The Asian One-Horned Rhinoceros is Rhinoceros unicornis.

Now it can be pointed out that the modern-day Rhinos do not have horns that are ‘a cubit and a half in length’. However, what might have their horns looked like hundreds or thousands of years ago? Or what might other species of rhinos or similar animals have looked like? There is a creature that scientists have claimed became extinct hundreds of thousands years ago, or before the ‘history of man’ and thus would be unknown to modern man or to ancient historians. This ‘pre-historic’ creature known to science as Elasmotherium sibiricum, is more commonly known as the Siberian Unicorn. This creature according to experts died out over 350,000 years ago.

Siberian Unicorn
painting by Henrich Harder c. 1920

Once again, Mother Nature, has shown that we do not always know everything, most of the time we do not. Recently, a new skull of the Elasmotherium sibiricum was found near Kozhamzhar village, Pavlodar, Kazakhstan. The skull was tested by Tomsk State University (TSU) in Russia; the results of these testing found that the ‘Siberian Unicorn’ was living as recently as 29,000 years ago. This date is well within the known dates for ‘modern man’ to be living in the same area and thus in a very good position to have witnessed the creature and told stories of its existence.

These creatures are more a cross between mammoths and rhinos. So they were big hairy beasts of the grasslands. They roamed large areas of Siberia. This new find will give scientists more information about the survival of certain animals in the midst of environmental changes. This information could help protect other species in the future.