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Where mythical creatures are concerned, unicorns kind of take the cake. They’re so popular there’s even a brand-new unicorn emoji. But as much as we wish Lisa Frank-level unicorns were real, we’ve all pretty much come to accept, as adults, that these creatures are just a very beautiful myth.
But technically, unicorns did roam the earth. And according to a study published in the America Journal of Applied Sciences by a team at Tomsk State University, led by Russian scientist Andrei Shpansky, not only did they exist—they existed as recently as 29,000 years ago.
— Forbes Tech News (@ForbesTech) March 29, 2016
The species in question is the Siberian unicorn, whose scientific name is Elasmotherium sibiricum. And up until now, it was thought to have been extinct for more than 350,000 years. But a newly carbon-dated fossilized skull, excavated from Kazakhstan, shows that dating was off by more than 300,000 years. Also, the Siberian unicorn was more closely related to a rhino than a horse—the difference being its extremely long horn, hence, its “unicorn” moniker.
“Most likely, the south of Western Siberia was a refugium, where this rhino persevered the longest in comparison with the rest of its range,” Shpansky stated of the animal’s ability to survive for much longer than originally though, according to Forbes. “There is another possibility that it could migrate and dwell for a while in the more southern areas.”
— CA AcademyOfSciences (@calacademy) March 28, 2016
These “unicorns” were also a lot bigger than what we’ve come to expect from their fictional portrayals; in fact, as Science Alert points out, their size was actually closer to that of a woolly mammoth than a horse, measuring an estimated six feet tall and 15 feet long and weighing about 9,000 pounds. That’s actually twice the weight of an average white rhinoceros, FYI.
So while real unicorns didn’t quite fit our fairytale ideals about what unicorns are “supposed” to look like, it’s still really cool that they existed. And hey, paleontology only goes so far, right? You can’t detect magical abilities from 29,000 years ago using bones. We’re just saying.