Illustration for article titled 9.2 million year old Rhino skull discovered in volcanic ash

This rather imposing two-horned rhino skull is 9.2 million years old, which means it predates when our earliest hominid ancestors diverged from chimpanzees. And a skull like this deserves a badass origin story. Spoiler alert: it involves volcanoes and decapitation.


Basically, this rhino skull was fossilized much like how the eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii and preserved it for prosperity. The two-horned rhinoceros was found throughout the Eastern Mediterranean millions of years ago, and the owner of this particular skull would have lived in what's now Turkey. According to researchers at France's University of Montpellier, we can reconstruct much of what happened to this poor beast, but it isn't pretty.

When the volcano erupted, the rhino would have been killed instantly, essentially cooked to death as temperatures skyrocketed to temperatures over 750 degrees Fahrenheit. The body would then have been smoked, essentially, as the extreme temperatures would have completely dehydrated the body. The pyroclastic flow emanating from the volcano would then have started to rip the body apart, separating the skull from the rest of the body.


The skull was likely transported about 20 miles away from the volcano by the river of ash, where it then spent the next 9.2 million years until its discovery by the French paleontologists. It's a remarkably rare find, as only about 2% of all fossils are found in volcanic rock — while volcanoes are an excellent way to fossilize remains, they're an even more excellent way to completely destroy them, which is likely what happened to the rest of the rhino's body.

For more on this find, check out the complete original paper over at PLoS ONE.

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