Like with all great, storied artists, unicorns earned their fame posthumously. The early unicorn was like the O.G. Van Gough, but without opposable thumbs or a beret.
No, we're not making this up. As it turns out, the beloved creatures did, in fact, exist -- long before Starbucks titled a drink in their honor. A recent study published in science journal, Nature Ecology & Evolution, confirms that the fabled animals are not mythical creatures akin to My Little Pony dolls, but rather, a real species of single-horned mammals called elasmotherium sibiricum that roamed the earth approximately 39,000 years ago, before becoming extinct as the result of sweet sweet climate change. And here's a hot take: they were ugly as hell.
According to the journal, these prehistoric rhinoceros-cousins were native to Siberia, colored a deep, unappealing brown, and weighed 9,000 pounds apiece. Fortunately, the Starbucks beverage does not arrive in hues of ugly unicorn... yet.
While scientists have actually acknowledged the existence of these massive creatures for years, they were under the impression that the species died out well over 200,000 years ago. This new data, derived from unicorn DNA, reveals that they stuck around much longer. Apparently, the not-fictional animals paraded through Eastern Europe and Central Asia at least 39,000 years ago. This means they co-existed with human beings.
"If we look at timing, it’s during a period of climate change, which wasn’t extreme, but it did cause a whole bunch of much colder winters that we think really altered the extent of the grassland in the area,” Australian Centre for Ancient DNA representative Alan Cooper told ScienceAlert. “The worrying thing about it is it shows you don’t have to have major climate change to have vegetation responses that can wipe out a species -- and this is before humans had restricted animals’ ranges. Can you imagine what will happen today?”
If we're to use the unicorns as an example, we can only hope that once we go extinct due to climate change, the species that comes to replace us will reimagine us all with wild, sparkling rainbow hair and hearts of solid gold. On the other hand, we did climate change. We broke the planet. So the heart of gold thing is probably out of the running.