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Ice Age Lukerya: Woolly Rhino Skeleton Discovered in Penza

An almost completely preserved skeleton of a woolly rhinoceros that lived about 20-14 thousand years ago was found in Penza. The discovery became a real sensation – the last time the bones of such a prehistoric animal were found in the region in the 20s of the last century. Representatives of the Penza Regional Branch of the Russian Geographical Society took part in the study and conservation of rare fossil remains.

Builders stumbled upon the skeleton of a rhinoceros when they were digging a foundation pit for a residential building in the Penza microdistrict Arbekovo. Realizing that they had found something unusual, they turned to the Penza Regional Museum of Local Lore. Scientists immediately went to the construction site.

– At the first examination, it turned out that we have a representative of the Ice Age fauna – a woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis), – said the director of the museum Artyom Pavlikhin.

Pavlikhin decided to interrupt his vacation in order to immediately study the unique object. A group of museum workers, paleontologist enthusiasts, representatives of the Penza branch of the Russian Geographical Society, the Faculty of Physics, Mathematics and Natural Sciences of the Penza State University gathered at the excavation site. The rhinoceros turned out to be a young female, said the director of the museum.

– We went to the construction site, with the support of the builders, they opened the upper layer of construction waste and black soil. We found the remains of a woolly rhinoceros, almost a complete skeleton. The individual is presumably a young female (four to five years old). It is clearly seen in the stratigraphy that the thickness of the soil layer (dark gray loam) in the zone of discovery of the skeleton is about 30 cm. Below, to the bottom of the construction pit, to a depth of 4 m, yellow-brown loam can be traced. The skeleton is located in a layer of yellow-brown loam almost on the border with dark gray loam. The depth of the skeleton from the day surface is 40-50 cm. If we assume that the formation of yellow-brown loam is associated with the epoch of glaciation, then it turns out that the woolly rhinoceros entered the layer at the end of this epoch – about 20-14 thousand years ago. A more accurate date can be given by radiocarbon analysis, – Pavlikhin explained.

Scientists have opened about 80% of the skeleton. Then the work had to be temporarily stopped due to unfavorable weather forecast. The very next day, October 22, Artyom Pavlikhin went to Ulyanovsk to consult with paleontologists.

– After consulting with a paleontologist colleague, director of the Ulyanovsk Undorovsky Paleontological Museum Ilya Stenshin, we came to the conclusion that the bones of the Penza woolly rhinoceros can be conserved and transported to the Penza State Museum of Local Lore for study and display. This process is very difficult – gluing and plastering the bones at the place of their discovery, cutting along with the ground, – Pavlikhin added.

The unique skeletal removal operation is scheduled to take place this week. Scientists decided to give the female woolly rhinoceros its own name – Lukerya.

According to Elena Sukhanova, a member of the Penza regional branch of the Russian Geographical Society, biology teacher of school No. 76, this is a really valuable find for the Penza region. The fact that the bones of the skeleton ended up in one place and he himself was almost completely preserved is a great success.

– Because for so many years, bones could have been scattered far due to the fact that the glacier descended, – Sukhanov noted.

The woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis) is a species of extinct mammal. It lived in vast open spaces during the Pleistocene and early Holocene. Finally disappeared 14-8 thousand years ago. Most of the period of the existence of this animal fell on the last glaciation in the history of the Earth. The woolly rhinoceros was a typical representative of the so-called mammoth fauna.

The found bones have a loose structure, so scientists need to preserve the skeleton with glue and plaster. Only after that, the remains of the rhinoceros will be removed from the ground and transported to the laboratory for painstaking analysis and reconstruction of the skeleton.

According to the chairman of the Penza regional branch of the Russian Geographical Society, Igor Pantyushov, who took part in the excavations, Lukerya can become one of the symbols of his native city, its new brand.

— This is now another symbol of Penza! She lived in Arbekovo 14 thousand years ago, within the boundaries of our city! The woolly rhinoceros was a typical representative of the so-called mammoth fauna. We hope that now it will replenish the exposition of our local history museum, – Pantyushov stressed.

Alexander Zhirnov

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