It’s been a widely known fact in the science community that giant rhinos once roamed the Earth some 25 million years ago. While they have long been considered one of the largest land mammals that ever lived, experts were still confused as to how they were able to evolve into the rhinos we more commonly see today.
Additionally, scientists had little to no information about how these rhinos travelled throughout Asia and ended up in the parts of the world where rhinos are most commonly found now.
Now, paleontologists have found new fossils that are finally answering some of these questions. The fossils were specifically a part of a new, sixth species of extinct giant rhino, Paraceratherium linxiaense, and where they were discovered has given experts a greater insight into how these giants move across China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan.
The team of researchers was led by Deng Tao from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.
The researchers uncovered one fossil of a completely preserved skull, jawbone, and teeth with their associated atlas; the part of the body where the head meets the spine. Another discovered fossil has three preserved vertebrae.
The remains gave the team enough information to create a digital 3D model of this new species so that they can compare them to other giant rhinos. The team was able to determine this newest discovery was a newer rhino species due to its longer and more flexible neck.
The fossils were found in Gansu Province, China right at the northeastern border of the Tibetan Plateau. The fossils were likely from the Late Oligocene period which lasted from about 34 million years ago to about 23 million years ago. These rhinos were significantly larger than the rhinos of today, with an estimated shoulder height of 16 feet and a weight of over 40,000 pounds. These rhinos also lacked horns.
“The Tibetan region likely hosted some areas with low elevation, possibly under 2,000 meters during Oligocene, and the lineage of giant rhinos could have dispersed freely along the eastern coast of the Tethys Ocean and perhaps through some lowlands of this region,” researchers wrote in the study.
Researchers determined that, “in the Early Oligocene, the animal dispersed westward to Kazakhstan, with a descendant expanded to South Asia, then returning north to cross the Tibetan area to eventually produce P. linxiaense to the east in the Linxia Basin.”
“Late Oligocene tropical conditions allowed the giant rhino to return northward to Central Asia, implying that the Tibetan region was still not uplifted as a high-elevation plateau,” Deng said.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.