Prehistoric Rhino Fossil 'Cooked to Death' in Volcanic Eruption

First Posted: Nov 24, 2012 01:03 AM EST

Researchers have identified a rare prehistoric rhino skull that was "cooked to death" during a volcanic eruption in Turkey.

Researcher Pierre-Olivier Antoine and colleagues from the University of Montpellier, France, analyzed the fossil of a large two-horned rhino (Ceratotherium neumayri) that lived during the late Miocene period in the Eastern Mediterranean region. They found that the rhino was baked to death and preserved in a volcanic eruption 9.2 million years ago, similar to that of the Mt. Vesuvius eruption in Italy in 79 A.D.

The findings of the study are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Examination of the skull revealed that the rhino faced severe dehydration in the heat of volcanic eruption.  The rhino was exposed to temperatures around 750 degrees Fahrenheit and the body was dissected within the pyroclastic flow. A pyroclastic flow is a mixture of superheated gas and rock fragments that flow rapidly when an eruption column collapses.

"The body was baked under a temperature approximating 400°C (750 degree Fahrenheit), then dismembered within the pyroclastic flow, and the skull separated from body," the researchers wrote in the paper.

The skull was then moved by the flow of the volcanic ash about 18 miles northward from the eruption site, where the four-member research team identified it.

Fossils of prehistoric animals are rarely found near volcanic rocks, as the temperature released during volcanic eruption destroys the organic matter.  According to the researchers, less than 2 percent of fossils are found near regions of volcanic eruption. Hence, they have termed the discovery of the rhino skull in Turkey as extremely rare.

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