Volcanic Eruption Buried Ancient Rhino
November 23, 2012

Rhino Skull Is A Rare Find For Paleontologists

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Although less than two percent of the fossils on earth are preserved in volcanic rock, researchers from the University of Montpellier have identified a new one. They found the skull of a rhino that perished in a volcanic eruption 9.2 million years ago.

Found in Turkey, the fossil is thought to be that of a large two-horned rhino (Ceratotherium neumayri) that was common in the Eastern Mediterranean during that period. The unusual features of the skull suggest that the animal was "cooked to death" at temperatures reaching near 500 C. The research team says that the temperatures were from a volcanic flow similar to that of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in Italy in 79 A.D.

The rhino's death was grisly and near instantaneous. The carcass underwent severe dehydration in the extreme heat of the eruption.

According to the research team, "the body was baked under a temperature approximating 400°C, then dismembered within the pyroclastic flow, and the skull separated from body." The ash flow moved the skull about 18.6 miles north of the original eruption site, which is where it was discovered by the team.

A fossil such as this one is extremely rare. Other researchers have identified fossils of soft-bodied organisms preserved in volcanic ash previously, most organic matter near an active volcanic eruption is usually quickly destroyed by the high temperatures.

The team describes their find in the journal PLOS ONE.

Image 2 (below): Caption: Citation: Antoine P-O, Orliac MJ, Atici G, Ulusoy I, Sen E, et al. (2012) A Rhinocerotid Skull Cooked-to-Death in a 9.2 Ma-Old Ignimbrite Flow of Turkey. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49997. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049997. Credit: Photograph by Pierre-Olivier Antoine