MONTPELIER, France, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- A fossil rhino skull shows the animal was "cooked to death" and preserved by a volcanic eruption 9.2 million years ago, French paleontologists say.
Writing in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers from the University of Montpellier, France, said the fossil, found in Turkey, is that of a large two-horned rhino common in the Eastern Mediterranean region during that period.
Unusual features of the preserved skull suggest the animal died in extremely high temperatures in a volcanic flow similar to that of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy in A.D. 79.
"The body was baked under a temperature approximating 400 degrees centigrade (750 degrees Fahrenheit), then dismembered within the pyroclastic flow, and the skull separated from body," the researchers led by Pierre-Olivier Antoine wrote.
Organic matter near an active volcanic eruption is usually quickly destroyed by the high temperatures making a fossil such as the prehistoric rhino extremely rare, they said.