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Skeleton of extinct rhinoceros species discovered in Spain

Researchers from the Quaternary Research Group (GRQ-SERP) of the University of Barcelona (UB) have discovered in Castelldefels a rhinoceros skeleton some 160,000 years old, belonging to an extinct species, Stephanorhinus hundsheimensis, which would have been similar to the current African black rhinoceros. The discovery took place in the so-called Rhinoceros cave, a site where two skeletons of this animal species had already been found by 2015.

Skeleton of extinct rhinoceros species discovered in Spain
Skeleton of the rhinoceros discovered in Castelldefels [Credit: Universitat de Barcelona]
The remains include the two front extremities of the animal, the ribs, part of the spine and the skull with the both jaws. Researchers assume that the animal probably fell accidentally into the Rhinoceros cave, where it died when trapped. The teeth would indicate that it was a young specimen, about seven years old, as it still has some of its milk teeth.

The Rhinoceros cave is an archaeological site with a long chronological sequence, ranging from 200,000 to 80,000 years old. In the Mediterranean basin there are very few sites from this period with such a complete stratigraphic sequence. In the deposit there is a large quantity of faunal remains in an excellent state of preservation. In 2012, a skeleton of an elephant calf was discovered, and in 2015, two skeletons of young rhinoceroses were also found. Apparently, the cave was as a natural trap for many different types of animals, especially the younger, inexperienced creatures that fell into it. Several lithic remains have also been recovered at this site.

The cavity is currently transected vertically due to the mining activity of the ca n'Aymerich quarry in Castelldefels. The extraction of limestone has greatly disfigured the original terrain and destroyed most of the cave, as well as the original entrance. For this reason, the cavity is now accessible via a scaffold that allows archaeological work to be carried out.

The remains will be removed from the cave this summer and will then be studied by researchers. Castelldefels Town Council plans to organise an exhibition in the municipality on the site of the cave in which part of the skeletons found in the archaeological excavations will be displayed.

The archaeological excavations are part of the project "Climate change during the Upper Pleistocene on the central Catalan coast and the impact on Neanderthal populations and anatomically modern humans", carried out by the Quaternary Research Group (GRQ-SERP) of the University of Barcelona, headed by researchers Joan Daura (University of Barcelona) and Montserrat Sanz (Complutense University of Madrid). The excavations are financed by the Castelldefels Town Council and the Archaeology and Paleontology Service of the Generalitat de Cataluña.

Source: La Vanguardia [July 21, 2018]


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