Archaeologists in Brno unearth bone fragment of prehistoric rhino 

Skull of woolly rhinoceros

Archaeologists in Brno have announced a unique discovery. During a dig in the city’s Vídeňská Street, they unearthed fragments of a skull of the now extinct woolly rhinoceros. It was most likely killed by prehistoric hunters, who resided in the area 16,000 to 20,000 years ago.

Along with mammoths, woolly rhinos were part of the megafauna during the Ice Age and a part of our ancestor’s diet. The closest extinct relative to the Sumatran Rhino was common throughout Europe and northern Asia and lived to see the end of the last glacial period.

The animal was covered with long, thick hair that helped it survive the harsh, cold weather and had a massive hump. Images of woolly rhinos have been found on cave paintings both in Europe and Asia.

Woolly rhinoceros | Photo: Mauricio Antón,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY 2.5

The prehistoric rhino discovered by archaeologists in the Moravian capital of Brno is believed to have been killed by hunter-gatherers, who resided on the southern bank of the Svratka River.

Lenka Sedláčková from the Archai Brno organisation, which is in charge of the archaeological research, says the 60-centimetre lower jaw, which still contains the roots of some of the animal’s teeth, is a rare find in this part of the world:

“We have been working in the area for some time now and we know that there was an old settlement here, so we were hoping to unearth something special.

Skull of woolly rhinoceros | Photo: Moravian Museum Brno

“I would say all such discoveries from the Palaeolithic period are unique, because we don’t come across them too frequently. Even bones are subject to degradation, so the jaw will help us to make a more precise dating of the area.”

“What we know is that this area was a settlement of prehistoric hunter-gatherers, who probably hunted the rhino, processed and carved up the meat and left the skull in the place where we happened to be digging.”

Archaeologists have been carrying out rescue digs in the area for nearly twenty years. During the two decades, they have come across other objects that point to a former settlement in this locality, says Lenka Sedláčková:

“At that time, people didn’t have ceramics. They mainly used instruments made of stones and bones. We have discovered a lot of flint instruments and animal bones. Apart from the rhino bone, we have also unearthed bones of elks, wolves and horses. We have also come across a couple of campfires.”

Skull of woolly rhinoceros | Photo: Moravian Museum Brno

Mrs Sedláčková says that like all prehistoric bone fragments, the rhino jaw is very fragile and has to be handled with extreme care.

“We cut out a whole block of earth containing the skull fragment, reinforced it with plaster bandaging and left it to harden. Only then was it pulled out of the ground and transported to the laboratory, where it will be cleaned, conserved and analysed.”

After the research is completed, the woolly rhino’s jaw will become part of the Moravian Museum’s collections.