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In the scheme of things, if you want to preserve something –say an impressive football card collection or that Darkseid action figure you never opened — you encase it in something structurally sound, and you store it somewhere with some kind of climate control. As a rule, you don’t generally cover it with hundreds of cubed kilometers of volcanic spew. That tends to ruin things. Earth’s fossil record has relatively few examples taken from volcanic rock and ash, due to lava’s extreme temperatures destroying most of what it comes into contact with post-eruption. But there’s always an exception to be made. A horny exception.
Pierre-Olivier Antoine and three research colleagues from the University of Montpellier, France unearthed a 9.2 million-year-old rhinoceros skull from volcanic ash in Cappadocia, Turkey, and presented their findings recently in the journal PLOS ONE. It’s thought to be that of a large, two-horned species common at that time in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Like a shrimp in a flash fry, the rhino was indeed cooked to death by a volcanic flow similar to that of Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 A.D. Obviously, the rhino died instantly before suffering the extreme dehydration that followed, as temperatures reached somewhere between 400°-500°C, essentially baking the body. At this point, the skull was separated from the rest of the body, and then took a volcanic ash ride to around 30 km north of the volcano, where the researchers eventually nabbed it.
It’s an incredibly rare find, and it comes in a year that has already seen the discovery of a 300 million-year-old forest buried beneath volcanic ash in Mongolia.