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Sunday, 17 April 2011

Surviving Sivatheres

This has been a controversy since Edwin Colbert published a paper in 1936 in which he identified a bronze Sumerian artefact as a representation of a supposedly-extinct Sivatherium. I give a standard explanation of this situation from another internet site:

Archaeological Finds Relevant To Cryptozoology. One science that cryptozoology interacts with on several occasions is archaeology. Several artefacts suggest that animals presumed extinct or unknown were encountered by ancient cultures, one famous example being the chariot ring found at Kish. Dated to around 2,500 BC, it has been suggested that this artefact represents a late surviving Sivatherium (an animal related to both the giraffe and the okapi, which had antler-like structures and is presumed extinct before the age in which the artefact was made) that was tame and kept captive. Since this artefact had been discovered, it has been announced that broken off pieces of the ends of the supposed antler-like structures have been found and has been used as evidence that the artefact represents a deer but this does not explain certain other features of the artefact or that other artefacts seem to depict similar animals. Archaeological finds from other regions depict animals thought extinct. These include bronze artefacts from the Warring States period of Shanxi Province that depict animals resembling the hyrax but with features suggesting a semi-aquatic lifestyle, suggesting that the animals depicted are the large, semi-aquatic Pliohyrax, which once inhabited the region. Two gold belt plaques of the Sakik of Siberia, 12cm long by 7.4cm wide and 137g in weight depict what look similar to a supposedly extinct chalicothere, an animal related to the horse but with large claws. At Tiahuanaco in Bolivia is represented several times an animal that has been identified as Toxodon, an animal resembling the hippopotamus and thought to have become extinct thousands of years before. Other animals thought to have died out in the region at this time have been suggested to be depicted at Tiahuanaco around 1,500 years ago. On some occasions actual remains have been found by archaeologists such as the Neanderthal skull found at Podkumok in the Caucasus mountains alongside artefacts from the bronze age, which is relevant because Neanderthal-like cryptids are still reported from this region. Another anomalous find of a primate was at the Sierra National Forest in Caliafornia where part of a skull was discovered that a pathologist suspected belonged to a non-human primate due to the length and to pronounced development of the nuchal ridge. A second opinion on this specimen confirmed that the skull was unusual. These are just some examples that demonstrate how archaeology can be relevant to cryptozoology.

In the case of the Sivatherium, finding pieces that made the horns longer would not change the identification; indeed, it can be seen that the ends of the horns are quite obviously broken off in the illustration shown at the top, comparing the artefact with a reconstruction of the Sivatherium. The illustration of the artefact comes from Colbert's article and the paste-up comparison was done by a reviewer (with supposedly a link to the original article; unfortunately, the link is a dud). More importantly, as soon as Colbert published his article, it was correctly pointed out that Sumerian artwork shows animals that were never tamed in similar context, so that even if the bronze does depict a Sivatherium, it does not necessarily mean the animal was actually tamed simply because its image was put to ornamental use. Several authorities assumed that Sumerians had tamed Asiatic wild asses or onagers before horses were introduced on the basis of similar artefacts, but zoological authorities doubted very much if onagers were tameable. The best examples of artwork seemed instead to represent donkeys from Egypt).

More importantly, Sivatheres are readily recognisable in artwork of other areas: the Hittite example is from Asia Minor from a cylinder-seal impression and rock art depictions of Sivatheres occur in both North and South Africa in a supposedly recent (post-glacial) context, but more recently examples have even turned up in India (shown below). All of these examples are perhaps as old as the Sumerian ones or slightly older.

Recently-identified Rock-art Sivatherium from India, very similar to some of the African counterparts.

Life reconstruction of a Sivatherium from Wikipedia, and below, a clip-art illustration of its fossil skeleton.

Sivatherium ('Shiva's beast)' is an extinct genus of giraffid that ranged throughout Africa to Southern Asia (mostly India). The African species, S. maurusium, was once placed within the genus "Libytherium." It may have become extinct as recently as 6,000 years ago, as depictions that greatly resemble it are known from ancient rock paintings in the Sahara desert.[2] Sivatherium resembled the modern okapi, but was far larger, and more heavily built, being about 2.2 meters (7 ft 4 in) tall at the shoulder. It had a wide, antler-like pair of ossicones on its head, and a second pair of ossicones above its eyes. Its shoulders were very powerful to support the neck muscles required to lift the heavy skull.[2]

References1. 1.^ The Paleobiology Database 2.^ a b Palmer, D., ed (1999). The Marshall Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. London: Marshall Editions. p. 278. ISBN 1-84028-152-9.

In this case I am identifying the supposed "Living Dinosaur" Ngoubou as a Surviving Sivatherium instead:

The Ngoubou is a purportedly surviving ceratopsian-like cryptid in the savanna region of Cameroon.[1] It is said to have six horns, and fights elephants for land, despite its smaller size (about the size of an ox, according to locals).[2] In November 2000, William Gibbons did some preliminary research in Cameroon for a future Mokele-mbembe expedition. He was accompanied by David Wetzel. While visiting with a group of pygmies they were informed about an animal called Ngoubou. Although ngoubou is also the local word for rhinoceros, the pygmies asserted this was not a regular rhinoceros, as it had more than one horn (six horns on the frill in one account), and further stated that the father of one of the senior members of the community had killed one with a spear a number of years ago. The locals had noted a firm decline in the population of these animals lately, making them harder to find. [It should also be stated that one-horned rhinoceros are quite unknown animals in this area as well - DD] Gibbons identified the animal with a Styracosaurus, but these are currently only known to have inhabited North America.[1] It might be related to the Emela-ntouka, but this animal is single-horned.[3] Ceratopsian fossils are not found in Africa. Most have been found in Eastern Asia and North America, with one find in Australia [Wikipedia goes on to recite a 'possible sighting' which Heuvelmans states to be a hoax. It is notable that most such creatures as reported in Africa are stated to be amphibious but graze in clearings and not in the denser jungles themselves - DD]


1.^ a b » The Ngoubou 2.^ Ceratopsians 3.^ Mackal, Roy P. A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1987: ISBN 90-04-08543-2 4.^ On the Track of Unknown Animals by Bernard Heuvelmans, Kegan Paul, 3rd revised edition, 1995 ISBN 0-7103-0498-6

Ngoubou as a sort of Styracosaurus, from DeviantArt by Squat

Further information was supplied from another Monster Quest interview and reproduced as follows:

"Regarding the Ngoubou/Emela-ntouka, it would not suprise me if this animal was a rhino of some kind – perhaps even a new species. The game wardens in South Africa’s Kruger National Park have witnessed some epic battles between rhinos and elephants when the two encounter one another at water holes. The elephants, however, always win. Perhaps the Ngoubous are faring better against the smaller less aggressive forest elephants in Congo and Cameroon. The savannah dwelling Ngoubous are described as being heavily armoured, with a beaked mouth [or drooping upper lip such as the Sivatherium had - DD], up to six horns (or spikes) protruding [backward-DD] from is head/neck area, and a thin tail like an elephant[Emphasis added by DD]. The animal is also said to give birth to a single calf. All these factors tell me that the savannah Ngoubou is most likely a mammal of some kind, and possibly a very rare species of aggressive, armoured rhino. An unusual rhino perhaps, but a rhino just the same. It would nevertheless make a fascinating discovery, considering that they are shot for food from time to time.

"The river N’Goubous are described as possessing from one to two horns (again, sexual dimorphism?)and can hide under water like a hippo. A two horned specimen was trapped and killed in a Baka elephant trap as it exited the Boumba River in 1996. We are now setting up a reward system for the Baka for any physical evidence they can keep for us, such as a horn, piece of bone, skin or a tooth. Indeed, anything that can yield DNA evidence.

"Finally, I should mention that any discovery of a living dinosaur will not, in my opinion, prove the Bible to be a handbook on living dinosaurs, prove that the earth is 6,000 years old, or disprove evolution. The discovery of a living dinosaur will be absolutely monumentous, and I hope a huge leap forward for science in studying and learning more about these fascinating animals. I hope that my forthcoming new book on Mokele-mbembe will help to clarify this subject somewhat for all interest parties, regardless of where they stand on the question of origins."

This interviewee obviously considers the Emela-Ntouka and the Ngoubou to be the same despite the fact that the one is described as a one-horned armoured rhinoceros and the other as an ox-sized creature with bizzare palmate and spiked horns at the rear of its head. Those horns are what calls the Sivatherium to mind as a candidate for the legend, and no knid of rhinoceros-like creature otherwise has anything like that. I am also informed that "Ngoubou" can also mean the African buffalo in other areas.

Another supposedly-extinct okapi-like animal with horns that looked like antlers was Climacoceras, and it appeared on Heuvelmans' checklist of Unknown animals as a separate Cryptid known from Ancient times in Egypt and Ethiopia.

Climacoceras (from Greek, "Ladder Horns") was a genus of early Miocene artiodactyl ungulates of Africa and Europe. The members of Climacoceras were related to giraffes, as the genus was once placed within Giraffidae. Fossils of the two best known species of Climacoceras, C. africanus and C. gentryi have been both found in Kenya. The animals measured about 1.5 m in height and had large ossicones resembling antlers. C. africanus had ossicones resembling tall thorn-covered plant stems, while the ossicones of C. gentryi resembled thorny crescents. The genus was once placed within Palaeomerycidae, and then within Giraffidae, it is now considered a giraffoid and a new family, "Climacoceratidae," has been erected by Hamilton for this genus. Other Climacoceratidae include Prolibytherium from Egypt and Libya and Orangemeryx from Namibia and South Africa. Heuvelmans' Checklist notes the entry on page 20 of CRYPTOZOOLOGY 5, 1986: "A deer, apparently known since Egyptian antiquity, recently reported also from Southern Ethiopia. It most likely belongs to the genus Climacoceras, of which fossil remains have been collected locally and which date from the Miocene" (Source is not specified)

Climacoceras(in front) and other early Giraffids, from Wikipedia.

A type of Water-Monster depicted in several portions of Central Africa is a sort of long-bodied, short-legged antelope and the black figure of it shown here comes from Uganda, same Primitive-art-design outlet as the "Mokele-Mbembe" design given earlier. I believe this one is a pottery design. The "Antelope" is often described with multiple or unusual horns and seems to be the same as the other suspected Sivathere types.

Mokele-Mbembe "Brontosaurus" from African Rock Art at Kuppenhole, Tanganyika. Directly below it is another Water-Monster which appears to be a sort of bovid with multiple horns, hence probably a Sivatherium. The large creatures with floppy limbs at the bottom could be large seals. There are several rock-art "Brontosaurs" from this area, some of which appear similar to the Ishtar Gate 'Sirrush' in design.

Reconstruction of the head of the Ninki-Nanka, a Water-Monster of the Gambia River area. compared to a giraffe with unusual horns. This is readily comparable to the reconstruction of a Sivatherium at the top of this article.

Victorian-Era Print Showing Unknown African Palmate-Horned Ungulate

1907 Reconstruction of Sivatherium from Wikipedia.
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  1. The basic material for this posting came from a submission to PURSUIT magazine in the early 1990s which finished up with the Victorian-era print. That manuscript also contained reproductions of the North and South African rock art thought to represent Sivatherium and unfortunately I have not been able to get any more copies of the rock art to reproduce.

    Incidentally on the Sumerian bronze decoration at the top, the animal is supposed to be holding a ring in its mouth only the ends of the ring have been broken off. Presumably the ring had originally been put there to hold a leather strap.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  2. I'll aim to cover 'late-surviving sivatheres' some time soon on Tet Zoo - will link to this article of course.

  3. By all means, please do-and as always, it's a pleasure doing business with you!

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  4. I have been doing a search on the Kirin, a type of creature found in china several thousands of years ago. It is associated with many, many myths. I had decided that the Kirin must have been a kind of Okapi that is now extinct that used to inhabit china, but then I came across this page and it leaves me in doubt. If the author of this page or any viewers of this page has any information or sources about Okapi, or any other Okapi-like animals, especially okapi-like creatures from china, please post soon. Thanks.

  5. There is independant evidence of Sivateres from India going by rock art. I don't know of any Okapi-like reports from China and everything I have heard about the Kirin (Chinese Ki-Lin) makes me think it is something more like a bovid with peculiar horns, about the same size and habitat as a chamois


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