Paleontologists say that they’ve discovered a fossil of woolly rhinoceros in Tibet’s Zanda Basin and that discovery may give important clues to the evolution of Ice Age species such as mammoths, rhinos and the saber-tooth cats.
The fossil, dubbed as Coelodonta thibetana, was discovered in 2007 by paleontologists from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the Chinese Academy of Science.
According to researchers at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the findings suggests that some of the mammals may have first evolved in what is known as present-day Tibet before the beginning of the Ice Age — which has long been a lingering question to scientists that didn’t know where they came from or how they adapted to living in a cold environment.
“Cold places, such as Tibet, arctic and antarctic, are where the most unexpected discoveries will be made in the future — these are the remaining frontiers that are still largely unexplored,” a press release by Xiaoming Wang of the Natural History Museum said.
Researchers believe that when the Ice Age arrived around 2.6 million years ago, the cold-adapted rhinos — which lived when the climate was warmer and before the ice sheets were seen in the Ice Age that came later — descended from the high mountains and began to expand throughout northern Asia and Europe.
Researchers believe that they used its large body, long hair and flat shovel-like horn to adapt to a cold environment. Scientists say the size of the rhino may have been the size of today’s Indian and black rhinos.
“The cold winters in high Tibet served as a habituation ground for the mega-herbivores, which became pre-adapted for the Ice Age, successfully expanding to the Eurasian mammoth steppe,” researchers said.
Wang noted that that the fossil was “quite well preserved – just a little crushed, so not quite in the original shape; but the complete skull and lower jaw are preserved.”
The fossil found is believed to be 3.7 million years old, which would be much older than its Ice Age descendants in the mammoth steppes across much of Asia and Europe.