Researchers have identified the skull of a rhino that perished in a volcanic eruption about 9.2 million years ago, making it a rare find as less than two percent of such fossils are preserved.
The fossil, found in Turkey, is thought to be that of a large two-horned rhino common in the eastern Mediterranean region during that period, according to researchers led by Pierre-Olivier Antoine and colleagues from the University of Montpellier, France.
The researchers said that unusual features of the preserved skull suggest that the animal was "cooked to death" at temperatures that may have approached 500 degrees Celsius, in a volcanic flow similar to that of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in Italy in 79 AD, the journal Public Library of Science ONE reports.
The rhino's grisly death was near-instantaneous, and followed by severe dehydration in the extreme heat of the eruption. "The body was baked under a temperature approximating 400 degrees Celsius, then dismembered within the pyroclastic flow, and the skull separated from body," the researchers said.
The flow of volcanic ash then moved the skull about 30 km north of the eruption site, where it was discovered by the four member research team, according to a Montpellier statement.