Less than 2% of the earth's fossils are preserved in volcanic rock, but researchers have identified a new one: the skull of a rhino that perished in a volcanic eruption 9.2 million years ago. The find is described in a paper published November 21 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Pierre-Olivier Antoine and colleagues from the University of Montpellier, France.
The fossil, found in Turkey, is thought to be that of a large two-horned rhino common in the Eastern Mediterranean region during that period. According to the researchers, unusual features of the preserved skull suggest that the animal was 'cooked to death' at temperatures that may have approached 500° C, in a volcanic flow similar to that of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in Italy in 79 A.D.
The rhino's grisly death was near-instantaneous, and followed by severe dehydration in the extreme heat of the eruption. As the researchers describe its end, "the body was baked under a temperature approximating 400°C, then dismembered within the pyroclastic flow, and the skull separated from body". The flow of volcanic ash then moved the skull about 30 km north of the eruption site, where it was discovered by the four member research team.
Although other researchers have previously identified fossils of soft-bodied organisms preserved in volcanic ash, organic matter near an active volcanic eruption is usually quickly destroyed by the high temperatures, making a fossil such as this one extremely rare.
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
Public Library of Science: http://www.plos.org
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Check out these colorful images of crystallized alcoholic beverages
Large stretches may be no more than biological baggage, say researchers after comparing genome with that of other mammals
Specially designed mobile games can help scientists answer important questions about cognition, a team finds.
Tinnitus is a chronic ringing in the ears that can be debilitating. Now, an implant that stimulates a nerve in the neck could eliminate the sounds for good
New fossils suggest it was not just bird-like dinosaurs that had elaborate feathers – the other major dinosaur group had them too
Natural Trap Cave holds the fossils of thousands of animals who plunged to their deaths over tens of thousands of years
What’s scarier than a tyrannosaur? Three tyrannosaurs.
The timing of when a girl reaches puberty is controlled by hundreds of genes, say scientists.
After the world's most expensive salvage operation, the ill-fated Costa Concordia is being floated back to Genoa, where it will be chopped up for scrap metal
Hijacking how neurons of nematode worms are wired is the first step in an approach that could revolutionise our understanding of brains and consciousness