June 25, 2010
In modern times, rhinos are exotic creatures that inhabit faraway lands in Asia and Africa. There are only five living species; all but one is threatened with extinction. But rhinoceroses are an old lineage. They have been around for 50 million years or so, and they once roamed areas in North America and Europe, in temperate and even arctic regions (there was even a woolly rhino).
Some species in Europe survived past the end of the last Ice Age and didn’t become extinct until around 10,000 years ago. That made them perfect subjects for long ago cave artists, like the one who made the drawing above, which was found last year in a cave, Coliboaia, in northwestern Romania. Much of the cave is underwater, which explains why the drawings were only found recently though the cave itself was discovered 30 years ago. Spelunkers exploring the cave found about half a dozen images of animals, including two rhinos, a bison and a horse. There may have been other paintings but they were likely destroyed by the water that now fills the cave.
Jean Clottes, a cave art expert from France (where the most famous cave art can be found, in Lascaux), has estimated that the drawings are around 23,000 and 35,000 years old, based on their style and similarities to other prehistoric art. Radiocarbon dating of the drawings or nearby bear bones may provide a more accurate estimate of when these ancient artists lived.
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