The Siberian unicorn or giant rhinoceros (Elasmotherium sibiricum), painted by German artist Heinrich Harder in the 1920s.
The Siberian unicorn or giant rhinoceros (Elasmotherium sibiricum), painted by German artist Heinrich Harder in the 1920s.

Revealed: When unicorns walked among us

Unicorns lived with humans in Siberia and died out when their food became scarce as the climate cooled, research shows.

The University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA analysed bone samples from 23 extinct Siberian unicorns, or giant rhinoceros (Elasmotherium sibiricum) to understand their family relationships and diet.

Researcher Dr Kieren Mitchell said it was a first for unicorn DNA.

"It's good to be able to learn so much about an extinct species that we can make some reasonably good conclusions about what happened to it," he said.

The animal was previously thought to have died out 200,000 years ago, but radiocarbon dating suggests it survived until at least 39,000 years ago.

The research is published today in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.