Archaeologists have unearthed a two-horned skull of a rhino that perished in a volcanic eruption 9.2 million years ago.
Found in Turkey, the rare fossil likely belonged to a large two-horned rhinocerotine Ceratotherium neumayri, an animal common in the late Miocene era of the eastern Mediterranean.
Unusual features such as structural changes to bones and partial disintegration of the teeth, indicate that the poor beast was “cooked to death” at temperatures that may have approached 500° C, in a volcanic eruption similar to that of Mount Vesuvius in Italy in 79AD.
“The correspondence is striking between the structural changes of hard tissues as observed in both the Karacaşar rhino skull and Pompeii-Herculaneum-Oplontis human and pet remains, which points to similar heating conditions in both events,” Pierre-Olivier Antoine and colleagues from the University of Montpellier, France, wrote in the journal PLOS ONE.
According to the researchers, the rhino’s death was near-immediate, and was followed by severe dehydration in the extreme heat of the eruption.
“The body was baked under a temperature approximating 400°C, then dismembered within the pyroclastic flow, and the skull separated from body,” they concluded.
Indeed, the flow of volcanic ash was so violent that it carried the skull about 19 miles north of the eruption site.
Pierre-Olivier Antoine, Maeva J. Orliac, Gokhan Atici, Inan Ulusoy, Erdal Sen, H. Evren Çubukçu, Ebru Albayrak, Neşe Oyal, Erkan Aydar, Sevket Sen. A Rhinocerotid Skull Cooked-to-Death in a 9.2 Ma-Old Ignimbrite Flow of Turkey. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (11): e49997 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049997