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39The Beef behind all Possible Pasts – The Tandem-Festschrift in Honour of Elaine Turner and Martin Street
THIJS VAN KOLFSCHOTEN · ANGELIKA HESSE
THE WOOLLY RHINOCEROS FROM SEWECKENBERGE
NEAR QUEDLINBURG (GERMANY)
The locality Seweckenberge (near Quedlinburg) yielded, during the quarrying of gypsum, a large amount of Pleistocene
fossils; remains that inspired Otto von Guericke in 1678 to reconstruct the famous Magdeburger Einhorn (i. e.,
“Magde burg Unicorn”) or Guericke-Einhorn. For his reconstruction he made use of skeletal parts of recent as well as
fossil, Pleistocene material collected in 1663 at the locality Seweckenberge. The Pleistocene faunal assemblage is rather
diverse and includes different species of the so-called Mammoth Steppe biome. One of these species is the Woolly
rhinoceros. A skull fragment of a juvenile individual with an age of ca. 1.5 years, described in this paper, is stored in
the collection of the Museum für Naturkunde und Vorgeschichte Dessau (Museum of Natural History and Prehistory
Dessau) in Dessau-Roßlau.
Guericke-Einhorn, mammoth steppe biome, Woolly rhinoceros, Coelodonta antiquitatis
The locality Seweckenberge (Saxony-Anhalt, Germany) plays an important role in the history of the Unicorn
myth; the legend of an animal that is nowadays often depicted as a horse with a large, pointed, spiralling
horn projecting from its forehead, and in some cases with a goat’s beard and cloven hooves. The legend goes
far back in time and is geographically widespread; it originates most probably from India or south-east Asia
inspired by the appearance of the Indian One-horned Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) but also (fossils of)
the Woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis), the Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) and the
Aurochs (Bos primigenius) could have been a source of inspiration (Gröning and Brauckmann, 2011). How-
ever, the fossil Siberian Unicorn (Elasmotherium sibiricum) should not be excluded as base for the unicorn
legend. Recent investigations indicated that the very large, Eurasian rhinoceros existed to at least 39,000
years ago, living at the same time as modern humans (Kosintsev et al., 2019; Kuitems et al., 2019).
There have been several attempts to reconstruct the mythical unicorn. Well known is the Magdeburger Ein-
horn (i. e., “Magdeburg Unicorn”) or Guericke-Einhorn reconstruction undertaken in 1678 by the German
inventor and scientist Otto von Guericke (Fig. 1), and among others mayor of the city of Magdeburg.
Gue ri cke’s reconstruction got lost but fortunately, there are drawings of the creature he made: the oldest pic-
ture is published in 1714 by Valentini (see Oekentorp, 1994); well known is the drawing published by Leibniz
(1749) (Fig. 1: b). These drawings form the base for 3D models of the “Guericke-Einhorn” (Fig. 2), for exam-
ple the one that is on display in the Museum für Naturkunde (i. e., Natural History Museum) in Magdeburg
(Germany) or the Otto von Guericke’s unicorn skeleton, exhibited near the Zoo in Osnabrück (Germany).
The drawings, although not very detailed, show that Otto von Guericke made use of skeletal parts of recent
as well as fossil animals for his reconstruction of the unicorn. The corn is most probably the “tusk” from a
narwhale (Monodon monoceros), a medium-sized whale that lives in the Arctic waters around Greenland,
In: S. Gaudzinski-Windheuser · O. Jöris (Eds.), The Beef behind all Possible Pasts. The Tandem-Festschrift in Honour of
Elaine Turner and Martin Street. Monographien des RGZM 157 (Mainz 2021). DOI: 10.11588/propylaeum.868.c11306
40 T. van Kolfschoten · A. Hesse · The Woolly Rhinoceros from Seweckenberge near Quedlinburg
Canada, and Russia. The left upper canine of the narwhale males form a spirally twisted, long tusk with a
length up to more than 3 m. The skull of the unicorn looks like a fossil skull of a Woolly rhinoceros and the
shoulder blades and the bones of the two front legs are from the extinct Woolly mammoth. The original
species of the other unicorn bones is / are unclear. The fossil material Otto von Guericke used for his recon-
struction is Pleistocene in age and was collected at the locality Seweckenberge near Quedlinburg (Gröning
and Brauckmann, 2011).
SEWECKENBERGE / SEWECKEN HILLS
The Seweckenberge (i. e., Sewecken Hills; 51° 47’ N; 11° 8’ E) are located in the eastern foreland of the
Harz mountains ca. 4 km east-south-east of the city of Quedlinburg. The hills are a part of the Quedlin-
burg Anticline and are formed by the erosion-resistant beds of the mid-Triassic Muschelkalk series. The
Middle Muschelkalk consists mainly of dolomitic marl and cellular limestone with embedded gypsum rocks
formed by the evaporation of salt-water. Due to the weathering and dissolution of the Muschelkalk, karst
Fig. 1 Drawings of the Guericke-Einhorn. a after Valentini (1714) (redrawn by Elke Gröning after Oekentorp, 1994); b after Leibniz
(1749) (redrawn by Elke Gröning). – (Drawings from Gröning and Brauckmann, 2011).
41The Beef behind all Possible Pasts – The Tandem-Festschrift in Honour of Elaine Turner and Martin Street
Fig. 2 3D model of the Guericke-Einhorn on display at the Museum für Naturkunde (Natural History Museum) in Magdeburg (Germany). –
(Photo: Michael Buchwitz, Museum für Naturkunde Magdeburg).
42 T. van Kolfschoten · A. Hesse · The Woolly Rhinoceros from Seweckenberge near Quedlinburg
phenomena such as sinkholes, pipes and dolines developed. These karst features formed traps where, in
particular, Pleistocene animals accumulated. Quarries were made in the Muschelkalk layers to mine the
valuable, extremely pure gypsum (Selenite) and in these quarries the dolines and other karst features, rich
in Pleistocene fossils, got exposed. Flint artefacts and human remains indicate human presence at the site
Taxa Common name Taxonomic classication
used by Nehring (1904)
Rana sp. frog Rana sp.
Hirundo rustica barn swallow Hirundo rustica L. (H. fossilis Giebel)
Anser sp. waterfowl Anser sp.
Anas sp. dabbling ducks Anas sp. (A. bochas L.?)
Anas crecca Eurasian teal Anas crecca L.
Lagopus sp. ptarmigan Lagopus sp. (Lagop. albus Keys. U. Blas.?)
Hystrix sp. porcupine Hystrix sp. (hisutirostris Brdt?)
Spermophilus rufescens russet ground squirrel Spermophilus rufescens Keys. U. Blas.
Cricetus cricetus hamster Cricetus vulgaris Lesk
Dicrostonyx torquatus Arctic lemming Myodus (Cuniculus) torquatus Pall.
Lemmus lemmus Norway lemming Myodes obensis Pall. (M. lemmus Hensel)
Microtus gregalis narrow-headed vole Arvicola (Microtus) gregalis Pall.
Alactaga major great jerboa Alactaga saliens fossilis Nhrg.
Ochotona sp. pika Lagomys sp. (pusillus Pall.?)
Lepus sp. hare Lepus sp. (timidus ant.?)
Canis aureus golden jackal Canis aureus L. Var.
Vulpes lagopus Arctic fox Canis (Vulpes) lagopus L.
Vulpes vulpes red fox Canis vulpes L. (Vulpes vulgaris)
Mustela eversmanii steppe polecat Foetorius Eversmanni Lesson
Ursus sp. bear Ursus sp.
Crocuta crocuta spelaea cave hyena Hyaena spelaea Blumenb. (H. crocuta foss.)
Coelodonta antiquitatis woolly rhinoceros Rhinoceros tichorhinus Cuv.
Equus sp. horse Equus caballus ferus Pall.
Megaloceros giganteus giant deer Cervus euryceros Pohl.
Rangifer tarandus reindeer Cervus tarandus L.
Bison sp. bison Bison sp. (priscus?)
Tab. 1 Fauna list of the fossil vertebrate assemblage described by Nehring (1904) collected by Dr. Lampe (Quedlinburg) in 1903-1904
from a doline exposed in one of the quarries in the Sevecken Hills.
43The Beef behind all Possible Pasts – The Tandem-Festschrift in Honour of Elaine Turner and Martin Street
THE SEWECKENBERGE PLEISTOCENE FOSSIL RECORD
The Pleistocene fossils Otto von Guericke used for his reconstruction, were found in 1663 (Gröning and
Brauckmann, 2011). Carl-Andreas Bischof collected Pleistocene fossils in the period before 1863 (Ludwig,
2012) and part of his collection is nowadays stored in the Museum fur Naturkunde und Vorgeschichte Dessau
(Museum of Natural History and Prehistory Dessau) in Dessau-Roßlau. Lampe (Quedlinburg) collected in 1903-
1904 a large amount of Pleistocene vertebrate fossils from a doline exposed in one of the quarries in the
Sewecken Hills; this collection is stored in the Museum für Naturkunde (Museum of Natural History) Berlin.
Alfred Nehring (1845-1904), a German zoologist and palaeontologist, published an extensive description
of the Lampe collection (Nehring, 1904). Nehring identied 26 different species: amphibia, birds and small
rodents as well as large mammals (Tab. 1). The fauna is diverse; rodents and carnivores are well represented
with respectively seven and six species (Nehring, 1904). Remarkable is the absence in Nehring’s list of the
The Sewecken Hill fauna, listed by Nehring (1904) is dominated by smaller mammal species that inhabit a
dry steppe environment. The occurrence of the Arctic lemming indicates rather cold climatic conditions. It is
Fig. 3 The Seweckenberge rhino ceros skull fragment in the collection of the Museum für Natur kunde und Vorgeschichte Dessau
(Museum of Natural History and Prehistory Dessau) in Dessau-Roßlau (MNVD- G 11.144). a occlusal view; b lingual view. – (Photo: Thijs
44 T. van Kolfschoten · A. Hesse · The Woolly Rhinoceros from Seweckenberge near Quedlinburg
a fauna that is characteristic for the Late Pleistocene Mammoth Steppe ecosystem (Markova and van Kolf-
schoten, 2008; Markova et al., 2019) and the small mammal assemblage shows similarities with for example
the fauna from Villa Seckendorff at Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt (von Koenigswald, 1985). H.-D. Kahlke (1975)
mentions a fossil of a Saiga Antilope, Saiga tartarica, from the Sewecken Hills excavated in 1728. The nd
conrms the assumption that the Pleistocene fauna inhabited a steppe environment.
The Sewecken Hill Pleistocene fossils in the Museum für Naturkunde und Vorgeschichte Dessau in Dessau-
Roßlau, collected by Carl-Andreas Bischof, is rather limited. It includes a mandible (MNVD-G 9237) and
two vertebrae (MNVD-G 9203) of a hyena (Crocuta crocuta spelaea), a canine and a distal end of a femur
(MNVD-G 9204) of a cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), a mandible fragment with a molar (MNVD-G 9235) of a
bison (Bison sp.) and a mandible fragment and a molar (MNVD-G 9231) of a bovid (Bos sp.). A very special
Sewecken Hill nd in the Dessau collection, described in the paper, is a skull fragment (MNVD-G 11.144) of
a juvenile rhinoceros obtained from Bischof in 1869.
THE RHINO SKULL FRAGMENT
The fossil remnant MNVD-G 11.144 consists of a fragmented part of the left side of a skull of a juvenile rhi-
noceros, embedded in ne grained sediment (Fig. 3). The specimen includes (fragments of) four dental ele-
ments: P2, DP3, DP4 and M1. The P2 is only represented by the anterior part of the ectoloph which shows
a well-developed parastyle and a prominent paracone fold
1. The parastyle is unworn and the upper part
of the paracone fold is broken off. The DP3 is damaged; the outer side of the ectoloph as well as the inner
side of the molar are (partly) missing. Hence, the possible occurrence of an internal cingulum is unknown.
The DP3 shows a well-developed multiple crochet and a crista and a closed medifossette. The enamel is thin
and the molar is only slightly worn. The DP4 is also damaged; the outer side of the ectoloph as well as the
inner side of the molar are (partly) missing. The DP4 shows a well-developed single crochet and a crista and
a closed medifossette. The enamel is thin and the molar is only slightly worn. The M1 is incomplete; only
the anterior half of the ectoloph of the molar is clearly visible. It shows a well-developed parastyle and a
prominent paracone fold. The molar is unerupted and hence, not worn.
The morphology of the DP3 and DP4, and in particular the closed medifossette, indicate that the specimen
should be attributed to the Woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis). The medifossette of the upper
milk molars of other possible Late Pleistocene species Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis and Stephanorhinus
hemitoechus is open or very rarely closed whereas it is closed in the upper deciduous molars of Coelodonta
antiquitatis (Guerin, 1980); a feature that is also visible in the Woolly rhinoceros deciduous upper molars
from the Tomsk Priob’e area of southeast Western Siberia, published by Shpansky (2014).
Table 2 lists the dimensions of the Seweckenberge rhinoceros dental elements and Table 3 shows that dimen-
sions of the Seweckenberge rhinoceros milk molars are rather small compared to the size range of the Coelo-
donta antiquitatis milk molars from other European Pleistocene localities presented by Guerin (1980) (Fig. 4).
1 The terminology used in the description is based on Guerin (1980) and Lacombat (2006).
45The Beef behind all Possible Pasts – The Tandem-Festschrift in Honour of Elaine Turner and Martin Street
THE INDIVIDUAL AGE
The most complete molars of the specimen are small in size, low crowned and the enamel is thin; features
that indicate that we are dealing with deciduous / milk molars. Hillman-Smith et al. (1986) published age
estimation criteria for the southern White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) and dened for the
molars ten different tooth eruption and wear stages as well as XVI different age classes. Assuming that the
eruption sequence and the wear pattern of the White rhinoceros and the extinct Woolly rhinoceros are com-
parable, the Seweckenberge juvenile rhino skull fragment would fall at the transition of the age classes IV
to V, indicating an age at death of ca. 1.5 years.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
The occurrence of a specimen of a Woolly rhinoceros in the Seweckenberge fossil assemblage is not new.
Nehring (1904) mentions the presence of two individuals: three upper milk molars of a single young indi-
vidual and limb bones of an older rhino. The fauna composition of the assemblage indicates a so-called
Mammoth Steppe environment; conditions that were common in Central Europe during most of the Middle
and Late Pleistocene. The Woolly rhinoceros, Coelodonta antiquitatis, is part of the Mammoth Steppe fauna
association in Central Europe since the Elsterian (Marine Isotope Stage 12) when it immigrated from the
east (Kahlke and Lacombat, 2008); the species occurred in Central Europe, with some interruptions, until
ca. 11 ka BP (Stuart and Lister, 2012; Markova et al., 2013). The Woolly rhinoceros is rather common in the
Middle and Late Pleistocene fossil record of Europe.
N min. max. mean
lenght 30.5 27 31 45.5 41.96
width 29.5 28 31.5 42 37.11
height 26 7 25 33.5 29.79
lenght 43 20 44 57 48.60
width 38 23 39 55 43.35
height 7 33.5 46 40.00
Tab. 3 The dimensions (mm) of the Seweckenberge rhinoceros milk molars compared to the size range of Coelodonta
antiquitatis milk molars from other European Pleistocene localities presented by Guerin (1980).
P2 DP3 DP4 M1
lenght 30.5 43
width 29.5 38
height 31.5 26 44
Tab. 2 Dimensions (mm) of the dental elements of the Seweckenberge rhinoceros. Because
of the poor preservation, most of the measurements are estimations.
46 T. van Kolfschoten · A. Hesse · The Woolly Rhinoceros from Seweckenberge near Quedlinburg
Due to the incomplete and poor conservation of the nds, it is unfortunately not possible to establish the
cause of death of the young rhinoceros described in this paper. The int artefacts and the human remains,
found at the site (according to Wüst, 1906) might suggest the possibility that humans might have killed
the animal. The fossil record of the localities Biache-Saint-Vaast (France) and Taubach (Germany) indicate
the hunting / butchering of the two different rhinoceros species Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis and Steph-
anorhinus hemitoechus (Dusseldorp, 2009), the evidence of hominin / human hunting of the Woolly rhino-
ceros is, however, very limited or absent. The Middle Palaeolithic site Lingjing (Xuchang, Henan, China),
yielded a large amount of (stone) artefacts as well as butchered larger mammal remains (van Kolfschoten
et al., 2020). A large bovid (Bos primigenius) and an equid (Equus przewalskii) dominate the faunal assem-
blage. The age prole of both taxa shows the dominance of prime adults which suggests that both taxa
were hunted by humans. The Lingjing fossils record also includes a large number of fossil Woolly rhinoceros
remains of at least nine different individuals; the majority is juvenile. The difference in age prole, combined
with the absence of butchering marks on the rhinoceros bones, suggests that the Woolly rhinoceros has not
been hunted / killed by humans. They died, most probably, a natural death. And we assume that this is also
the case with the juvenile rhinoceros from Seweckenberge.
The Seweckenberge rhinoceros is another conrmation of the occurrence of the Woolly rhinoceros in Cen-
tral Europe during the Middle and Late Pleistocene. The rhinoceros skull fragment in the Dessau collection
is, however, special because of its indirect link with the Magdeburger Einhorn or Guericke-Einhorn.
Fig. 4 The Woolly rhinoceros Coelodonta antiquitatis. – (Drawing: Elke Gröning).
47The Beef behind all Possible Pasts – The Tandem-Festschrift in Honour of Elaine Turner and Martin Street
The authors would like to thank Oliver Hampe (Museum
für Naturkunde Berlin) for tracing the Nehring collection in
the museum archives in Berlin. We also thank Dr. Michael
Buchwitz (Museum für Naturkunde Magdeburg) for pro-
viding us with the picture of the 3D model on display at
the Museum für Naturkunde Magdeburg (Germany).
This paper is dedicated to Elaine Turner and Martin Street
(RGZM, MONREPOS, Neuwied) to acknowledge their im-
portant contribution to the study of Quaternary mammals
in Central Europe as well as in northern Africa and to
honour their retirement.
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48 T. van Kolfschoten · A. Hesse · The Woolly Rhinoceros from Seweckenberge near Quedlinburg
Thijs van Kolfschoten
Faculteit der Archeologie
P.O. Box 9514
NL - 2300 RA Leiden
Institute of Cultural Heritage
72 Binhai Highway
CN - Qingdao,266237
Museum für Naturkunde und Vorgeschichte Dessau
Askanische Str. 32
D - 06842 Dessau-Roßlau