Yes, Unicorns Were Real, if You Want to Call This One


By this point, you've probably heard about the latest Elasmotherium sibiricum fossil discovery and know that humans once coexisted with this mighty "unicorn." All the headlines took some liberties with this one, but they beat the scientific paper's original title: "The Quaternary Mammals From Kozhamzhar Locality (Pavlodar Region, Kazakhstan)." 

The study, published in the American Journal of Applied Sciences, places the "Siberian unicorn" in modern-day Kazakhstan a mere 29,000 years ago, while previous estimates placed it outside the 200,000-year run of human history. Just like the deep woods in a medieval legend, this remote region served as the creature's last refuge against the inevitability of extinction.   

It's a pretty cool study, but there's no escaping the obsession with its possible link to various unicorn myths. We can't help but compare it to the splendid unicorns of Ridley Scott's "Legend," even though E. sibiricum looks more like a hairy dump truck in a dunce cap.

Yes, the 3- to 4-ton beast is a tad ugly. We had a big laugh when “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert gagged a little at the sight of one. But let's not pretend that mythic unicorns are all equestrian dreamboats. Consider the famed 16th century "Lady and the Unicorn" tapestries. As was sometimes the case in Western tradition, the lady's horned companion looks more than a little goatish. Eastern unicorns like the Chinese qilin and the Japanese kirin generally look more like dragons and less like the sexy, gleaming horned horse from Rankin and Bass' 1982 film, “The Last Unicorn.” 

In other words, let's celebrate E. sibiricum for what it was — a tanklike ungulate with a 6-foot horn — not for what it wasn't.