Saturday, July 28, 2018


Lacaux unicorn,,
Public domain.

The so-called unicorn painting in Lascaux cave has long puzzled researchers. The model for a one-horned animal has been sought in the fossil record. One animal found in the fossil record that might have filled the bill was the one-horned Elasmotherium sibericum, long thought to have been extinct back when humans first colonized Europe and Siberia. Until recently they were believed to have gone extinct a third of a million years ago, a new discovery, however, of an Elasmotherium skull dating to 29,000 years BP in Kazakhstan means that they did coexist with our ancestors and that they could have been portrayed in Paleolithic art. The fossil was dated by "radiocarbon AMS-method analysis." ( 2016)

Skull of Elasmotherium sibericum,, Public domain.

"Scientists believed Elasmotherium sibericum went extinct 350,000 years ago. But the discovery of a skull in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan provides evidence that they only died out about 29,000 years ago. Unfortunately, despite its sizable horn, the "Siberian unicorn" looked more like a rhinoceros than the mythical creature its nickname refers to. It was about 6 feet tall, 15 feet long, and weighed about 9,000 pounds, making it more comparable to a wooly mammoth than a  horse." (Guardian 2016)

Classical unicorn,,
Public domain.

The theory is that this knowledge of one-horned creatures came down to us in the mythologies of various cultures, and one-horned creatures have been included in mythologies around the world. Not only European and Mediterranean, but Chinese, Persian, and Indian mythologies include these creatures.

The Chinese know these beasts as  -  Quilin, also Pinyin; the Japanese name for them is - Kirin; the Korean name is  -  Kiringul; the Persian name is -  Shadhavarthe Greek name for them is -  Monoceros; the Islamic name is  -  Al-miraj; Filipinos know them as the  -  Anggiay; the Chilote people of Chile call them - Camahueto; and, for the Russians it is  -  Indrik, who is pictured as a gigantic beast with a single horn on the snout. (Wikipedia)

Reconstruction of rhinoceros-like
Public domain.

A more horse-like reconstruction,,
Public domain.

A few examples of cave art portraying these creatures have been proposed, which would illustrate the continuity of knowledge required for them to have been the basis of unicorn myths. The most famous, and least convincing, of these is the animal in the French Cave of Lascaux which is called "the Unicorn" (seen at the top of the page).  This actually appears to be a poorly drawn aurochs with straight horns (I assume the straight appearance of the horns is because an inexperienced artist tried unsuccessfully to deal with the perspective or angle of view of the animal and its horns).

Rouffignac Elasmotherium?
Science Heathen,
Public domain.

A somewhat more successful, and much simpler example is to be found in the French Cave of Rouffignac. This seems to portray a massive animal with a single horn on the forehead and a convincing case can be made that it represents Elasmotherium sibericum. Unfortunately, a convincing case can also be made that it represents a woolly rhinoceros. So, is there any cave art of the Elasmotherium sibericum, the unicorn? Possibly - in Rouffignac, or possibly still to be discovered in a new cave or chamber not yet located.

In any case, the Elasmotherium sibericum may have given us the myth of the unicorn, and that is something.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.



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