Digging Woolly Rhinos!
News story originally written on November 13, 2002
Scientists have been digging for days in Staffordshire, England and so far they have found the front half of a very well preserved woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquus) that lived at least 30,000 years ago. They expect that they will also find the bones of the rear half of the extinct animal with a bit more digging!
Today rhinos are not woolly at all and live only in warm places like Africa, but during the last Ice Age (about 50,000-10,000 years ago), woolly rhinos lived in cold European countries such as England. Alas, the woolly rhino no longer romps through northern Europe. The species became extinct about 10,000 years ago.
We know that humans interacted with woolly rhinos long ago because ancient humans made paintings of the animals on the walls of French and Spanish caves. The picture on the left is an example of what these ancient cave paintings look like.
The fossil woolly rhino is really amazing because the skeleton is very complete and well preserved. The bones were not chewed and broken into pieces by predators like most other woolly rhino bones that have been found in England. One of the rhinos even has plant material still stick to its teeth, giving possible clues to its last meal! “The reason it is so well preserved,” said paleontologist Andy Currant, “is probably because it froze immediately after it died and this stopped it being broken up.”
The fossilized woolly rhino bones that the scientists have found so far include the skull, lower jaw, vertebrae, three ribs, and large bones from both front legs. Since they started digging the fossil rhino, they have found in nearby rocks the fossils of three other rhinos and other large animals such as mammoth, reindeer, horse, bison as well as plant and insect fossils.