When, and where did the “Siberian unicorn” vanish?

Today, university researchers have discovered that the “unicorn” was last seen ‘only’ 29,000 years ago in Kazakhstan. The article describing the newly-identified location of the fossil in Pavlodar Irtysh, was published in February 2016 in the American Journal of Applied Science.

“Siberian unicorn” is the intriguing name given to to Elasmotherium sibiricum – an elasmotherium Siberian rhinoceros, which until recently was thought to have gone extinct 350,000 years ago.

“Most likely, Southern Western Siberia was a refúgium, where this rhino survived longer than the rest of its habitat. Or it could have migrated and lived for a while on the more southern areas,” said Andrey Shpanski, a paleontologist at TSU.

These conclusions are based on studies of a rhinoceros skull found near the Kozhamzhar village in Pavlodar region (Kazakhstan). The skull is well preserved: there are some cracks but no trace of pelletization, gnawing, or exfoliation. The fossils were examined using radiocarbon AMS-method analysis in the 14CHRONO Centre for Climate, the Environment, and Chronology laboratory at the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology; Queen's University Belfast, UK. The skull was identified as having belonged to animals that died 29,000 years ago.

“It was most likely a very large male individual (its teeth are not preserved). The dimensions of this rhino today are the biggest of those described by science, and the proportions are typical,” Andrey Shpanski said. 
Elasmotherium Siberian was thought to have gone extinct about 350,000 years ago. Its habitat was the vast territory from the Don River to the east of modern-day Kazakhstan. Studies of Elasmotherium residue findings in the Pavlodar Irtysh showed that these rhinos lived for a relatively long time in the West Siberian Plain’s southeast. The "unicorn" is now thought to have become extinct around the boundary of the Kargin thermochron and Sartan cryochron in the late pleistocene (boundary of MIS 3 and 2) period in Western Siberia. This data indicates it would be useful to carry out mass radiocarbon studies of mammalian remains that were previously thought to have gone extinct over 50-100,000 years ago.

 “Our research indicates the need to adjust how we understand the environmental conditions at the time. Understanding the past allows us to make more accurate predictions about natural processes in the near future: including regarding climate change,” Shpanski said.

Tomsk State University (TSU) was founded in 1878. It is located in Tomsk, a unique Russian city with a half-million population, whose life is built around seven major universities, hundreds of innovative enterprises, and a variety of technology parks. TSU is the center of this city – Siberia’s research capital.

As a universal institution of higher education, TSU offers students and researchers over 200 areas of specialization and study ranging from opera through robotics to meteorology and space technology. At TSU, traditionally strong schools such as the schools of law, linguistics and management (including MBA) are combined with TSU’s areas of particular research excellence including research into new materials, e. g. for medicine and space technology, twin studies, multi-dimentional swamp studies (TSU is situated on the edge of the Vasyugan Swamp, the world’s biggest swamp), and botanical studies (TSU’s botanic garden is one of the biggest and oldest botanic gardens in Russia).

The TSU campus is home to over 20,000 students including 1,000 students from other countries. TSU attracts many students from Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Mongolia and China. However, if you go the university’s 100-year-old library, you will also see students from Western Europe, e. g. Germany and the UK, searching information for their Master’s program in the library’s collection, which includes about 4 million catalogued items.

TSU is a typical European university, and like other universities, it builds connections with universities in Germany, the UK, Holland, Sweden, France and China. Nevertheless, Tomsk State University, or simply Tomsk Uni, is almost unknown to Europe outside the walls of research centers. However, this is not forever. Like other Russian universities, TSU welcomes Western researchers and students, giving them carte blanche to conduct virtually any research. The absence of strict constraints and the wide array of research areas make TSU a place of research freedom. TSU believes that after six years one in ten researchers at TSU will be foreigners.