An almost fully preserved skeleton of the extinct Stephanorhinus rhino have been found thanks to a lucky coincidence. It is the only finding of such spectacular scale in Poland.
The story began in May. During the construction of the express road S3 on the outskirts of Gorzów Wielkopolski earthwork exposed sediments of two lakes with peats on their surface. This finding caught the attention of the members of a team working on the project „Activities of the Polish National Geological Service in connection to incidental geological occurrences, breakdowns or natural disasters (intervention works)”. Their intention was only to collect sediment samples, but when they arrived to the site construction workers showed them – partially exposed during earthwork – bones of a large mammal.
The scientists immediately took to work. They managed to clean and secure the rest of the bones – during three expeditions over 100 in total have been found (along with a fragment of an embrittled skull and full set of teeth). They formed an almost complete skeleton, which was passed over to Dr hab. Krzysztof Stefaniak, Mgr Adam Kotowski, and Mgr Urszula Ratajczak from the Department of Paleozoology of the Faculty of Biological Sciences of the University of Wrocław. The preliminary examination already showed that those were the remains of a rhinoceros, specifically – as confirmed by teeth analysis – the extinct thermophilic Stephanorhinus rhinoceros.
That wasn’t the only discovery made on the site. In the same area a single metacarpal bone of an animal belonging to the cervidae species was also found. On the basis of morphometric characteristics it was concluded that those were the remnants of fallow deer (Dama dama).
The discovery of the almost complete skeleton of Stephanorhinus rhinoceros and a single fallow deer bone in Gorzów Wielkopolski was a lucky coincidence – these are the only findings of this kind in Poland, also well-documented in terms of geological data. Food residue found between the rhinoceros’ teeth will allow to recreate the diet of this species, and the planned analyses will help to reconstruct the natural environment from 100 000 years ago. Because the skeleton’s bones have been so well preserved, the researchers want to reconstruct the animal.
The continuation of the earthwork on the slope of the road holweg was possible thanks to a permission issued by the contractor of Gorzów S3 part, DRAGADOS S.A., and Jerzy Połomski, who shared an excavator needed to take off the overburden covering the skeleton. During more than ten days of exploration samples, which will be used to research and recreate the history of the lake basin, have been collected. Further investigations and analyses will include a large team consisting of the workers of the Polish Geological Institute – Polish Research Institute (from Wrocław and Warsaw), the University of Wrocław, PAS (in Warsaw and Kraków), AGH, and perhaps also from the University of Szczecin.
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