• Researchers recover the cranium of a wooly rhinoceros from the cave of La Rexidora in Ribadesella

    December 23, 2014

    Professor Diego Álvarez Lao has conducted the labor of recovery and consolidation of the piece, one of the best-maintained belonging to this species in the Iberian Peninsula

    Illustration of a wooly rhinoceros. Photo: Diego Álvarez Lao

    Researchers from the University of Oviedo have recovered a large portion of the cranium of a wooly rhinoceros (Coelodonta Antiquitatis) during the excavations that are currently taking place at the Cave of La Rexidora in Cuerres (Ribadesella). This is the most complete cranium of this species ever found in Asturias and one of the best-maintained ones in the Iberian Peninsula. Wooly rhinoceros lived in the Principality around 30,000 years ago and it disappeared from Europe and Asia around 12,000 years ago.

    Diego Álvarez Lao, researcher from the Department of Geology of the University of Oviedo, has conducted the labor of excavation and consolidation of the piece discovered during last summer at La Rexidora. "The excavation and the extraction of the cranium demanded the utmost care, since the condition in which it had been found made it fragile and it was partially included inside a thick stalagmatic layer, which made it harder to extract," explains Álvarez Lao.

    The cranium of La Rexidora is unique since it has kept the two upper jawbones with almost all of their teeth, the palate and the base of the cranium. The discovery of cranial remains of this species int he Iberian Peninsula, with very few exceptions, are always restricted to isolated dental pieces. The two milk teeth still found in the cranium allowed researchers to determine that the rhinoceros was young, between 4 and 5 years of age, when it died.

    The discovery of this cranium joins that of a jawbone from an individual of the same species during the first campaign of excavations. These new fossils of wooly rhinoceros therefore constitute highly unique situations that have an enourmous amount of scientific value to understand the makeup of the Iberian popularions of this species during the High Pleistocene.

    The origin of the dig site of La Rexidora is found in natural trap, a chasm in which animals fell by accident. So far, researchers have found remains of steppe bisons, wooly rhinoceros, bucks, reindeers and hyenas. The presence of some of these species indicates that back then Asturias had a very cold and arid climate, and that the landscape would have corresponded to that of a steppe with mostly herb plants and some coniferous trees.

    The rhinoceros would have a similar size to that of the modern African white rhinoceros. This species could grow up to 4 meters in length; 1.85m in height and reach a weight that surpassed the 2 tons. It had a raised bump on the back of its forehead and a dense fur that covered its whole body. It had two horns: a very large, curved and flat one on its nose (of up to 1.3m of length) and another smaller one on its front.

    Individual mummified by freezing found in Siberia have allowed researchers to get to know more details of the anatomy and the appearance of wooly rhinoceros, such as their fur or horns. The representations by Paleolithic artists found in caves such as Rouffignac or Chauvet have also left a record of the presence of these animals. So far, remains of wooly rhinoceros have been found in 27 dig sites in the Iberian Peninsula, 4 of them being in Asturias.