Maybe My Little Pony and Lisa Frank were onto something all along, because it turns out unicorns were real. They just don't quite look how you thought. The recent discovery of a prehistoric species of rhinoceros could've started unicorn mythology, but human imagination helped turn the creature into a magical horse.
Stories of real unicorns go back to the early ages and they have since become a beloved fantasy creature in many cultures. Seen as cutesy, romantic, and the best friend of little girls everywhere, the unicorns have evolved from a symbol of purity during the Middle Ages to a magical being used to sell products to ethereal people. The Starbucks secret menu features a pink and purple Unicorn Frappuccino that has the ability to change colors. Unicorns also helped inspire the shimmering rainbow hair coloring many celebrities wear.
Real-life unicorns actually existed, and here's a look at how their image went from hairy rhinoceros cousins to a majestic creature galloping amid rainbows.
Scientists proved there were three species of Elasmotherium, finding teeth, jaws, and bones in Siberia and Russia in the early 19th century and more in Asia 100 years later. The creature's name is Greek for "thin plate beast" and the skulls have led scientists to believe Elasmotherium was the predecessor to the rhinoceros of today.
These beasts were common throughout Eurasia, and while a few complete skeletons have been unearthed, most discoveries consist of teeth and skull fragments. The skulls feature a round dome on the forehead area where scientists believe there were horns.
Since Elasmotherium were related to rhinoceros and believed to be covered in thick hair, they resembled mammoths more than magical horses. As herbivores, they had large, flat teeth and scientists suggest most of their weight was placed on their front legs, giving them a body structure similar to bison.
According to skeletons that have been found, they measured up to 16 feet long with a shoulder height of almost seven feet. At a possible weight of up 10,000 pounds, Elasmotherium was comparable in size to a modern rhino. Imagine that running on a rainbow.
Although Elasmotherium was discovered many years ago and thought to be a possible reason for the unicorn myth, one find made that theory a lot more interesting. In 2016, researchers discovered bone fragments in what is now Kazakhstan that suggest Elasmotherium lived longer than previously believed.
Originally, scientists thought the beasts had gone extinct about 350,000 years ago, long before any humans were around.
Thanks to radiocarbon dating, the findings place the age of Elasmotherium around 29,000 years ago, meaning our human ancestors may have been their neighbors. Scientists believe this could suggest Elasmotherium really might have been the inspiration for unicorn legends.
Researchers believe the horn of Elasmotherium was made of keratin, the same substance that makes up human fingernails. Unfortunately, keratin is like flesh and dissolves at a much faster rate than bone, so nobody has discovered any actual Elasmotherium horns.
Scientists used later relatives of rhinoceros to guess at the size and shape of the Elasmotherium's horn, believing it to be possibly up to six feet long.
Experts think the horn was used to gain access to food and water by digging holes and extracting roots and other plants. It was most likely also used for self-defense as well as attracting mates while competing with other males for the attention of females.