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.
Close to real-time tracking of deadly superbugs such as MRSA promises to close down outbreaks faster and save lives
Western Australia's shark cull is to be halted after the state's environmental regulator advised against it, citing "scientific uncertainty".
23andMe hired new executives experienced in health regulation to oversee FDA approval of its genetics diagnostics kit
For those who think there are not enough hours in the day, researchers may have just offered you a solution. The brain can continue tasks even while asleep, a study finds. Texting not included, alas.
It roamed land and sea and snacked on giant fish. The first few spinosaurus bones were discovered a century ago, but destroyed in WWII. A more complete, second specimen reveals a terrifying predator.
Geneticist Wendy Chung describes what it's like to chip away at the mysteries of autism, and the excitement of uncovering tiny but critical clues.
Thin area of skull allows light into brain
Scientists in Birmingham are trialling new medical tests that lead to rapid, pitchside diagnosis of concussion in sport.
A 24-year-old woman has discovered that her cerebellum is completely missing, explaining some of the unusual problems she has had with movement and speech
We need to feel a certain gravitational force to tell up from down, which has big implications for the design of objects for bases on other planets