Unicorn Skull Discovered in Cave?

Authentic unicorn skull?

On April 27 of this year, we received an email from a gentleman residing in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, who claimed to have found the skull of a unicorn tucked inside a wooden box in a small cave in White Deer Township, Union County. 

This gentleman (whose name has been withheld in order to protect his identity) was enjoying the recent mild temperatures by hiking in the Tiadaghton State Forest, in an area between White Deer Creek and Nittany Mountain, when he came across a small opening between several moss-covered boulders.  Upon displacing some of the rocks, he found a shallow cave of about ten feet in length and three feet in height.  At the end of the cavern was a rough-hewn wooden box with rusted metal bindings and inside this box was an animal skull- with a horn protruding from its forehead.

After making this bizarre discovery, the hiker rummaged through the dirt beneath the box and discovered a cache consisting of several glass beads, fragments of a clay pot, and a hunk of heavily rusted metal, which may have been a blade of some kind.  On May 15, the staff of Journal of the Bizarre had an opportunity to examine the specimen, and our findings are as follows.

(Editor's Note: all pics are in 480dpi for high-resolution.  In order to see detail, save picture to computer and magnify to enlarge size)

Notice surgical removal of parietal bone

Skull Analysis

The specimen appears to be the skull of a young male whitetail deer or related species with an 8-inch bony projection protruding from the frontal bone.  The parietal bone is missing, and oddly appears to have been removed with surgical precision with a sharp object, rather than broken off.

Evidence of this can be seen in the clean, smooth lines, along with the fact that the cranial sutures which connect the parietal and occipital bones are still intact.  Had the skull been crushed, more likely than not the bone would have cracked along the cranial sutures.  The coloration and physical appearance of the cuts in the bone suggest that this "lobotomy" was performed shortly after the animal's death.

The "horn" of the specimen differs drastically from the traditional depiction of a unicorn horn.  According to European myth, the unicorn horn is spiral, like that of an antelope.  These types of animal horns consist of keratin, which surrounds a core of live bone.  The specimen in question features a horn made of compact bone, which places it closer to an antler.

This presents the possibility that unicorns were not horses with a long spiraling horn, but a type of deer with one pointed antler.  This would make much more sense from an evolutionary perspective, since equine species cannot cross-breed with artiodactyls (goats, deer, camels, antelopes, etc.).  Therefore, it is impossible for a horse to grow a horn. 

The missing parietal bone seems to imply that the animal's brain was removed for ceremonial purposes.  This would also explain why the specimen was found in a box over shards of a clay pot and a rusted iron cutting implement. 

The area in which the specimen was found lies along several historic Native American paths traversed by the Andaste (Susquehannock), Seneca, and Lenape (Delaware).  Of these tribes, the Andaste (Susquehannock) would have been the most likely to perform such a bizarre ritual.  It should interesting to note that the war-like Susquehannock were known to paint pictures of mythical creatures on their war shields; one such shield even depicts a Sasquatch-like creature.

By the year 1700, most of the Susquehannock had migrated toward south-central Pennsylvania.  If the unicorn skull is authentic, the best estimate would be that the animal had lived in the woodlands of Pennsylvania sometime in the 17th century, before the migration and subsequent extinction of the Susquehannock.

Antler Analysis

Horns and antlers are two very different structures; horns are composed of keratin, while antlers are composed of bone.  The specimen we examined undoubtedly has a bony growth protruding from the skull. 
This is clearly evidenced by examining the tip of the specimen's antler.  The surface layer of bone has chipped away, revealing the underlying lamellar bone.  When antlers reach the end of the growing process,  the outer layer becomes compact bone, while the centers are filled with coarse and spongy lamellar bone and marrow.  This detail of antler anatomy is virtually impossible to replicate by a hoaxer, and adds an important touch of authenticity to the "unicorn" specimen.

Another crucial detail exhibited by the unicorn specimen is the smooth polished look of the antler's mid-shaft.  The velvet which covers the surface of an antler is removed by the animal rubbing its antler against vegetation.  This is what gives them the smooth, polished look.  A close examination of the unicorn's antler reveals that the "shine" doesn't extend all the way  to the base of the antler or to the back of the antler; it is limited to the parts of the antler which would've been most likely to come into contact with vegetation.  A hoaxer most likely would've given the antler a uniform shine, even on the "hard to reach" areas.

There are also numerous gouges and scratches on the antler.  All of these gouges exhibit the same exact age and discoloration as seen on the rest of the skull.  However, the most peculiar detail is the lack of a pedicle.  The pedicle is the attachment point of the antler.  On the specimen we examined, there exists no point of attachment.  Rather, the antler appears to be part of the skull itself.  There are no lines, cracks, gaps, or lines of demarcation to suggest that the horn was "glued on" to the skull, or attached by unnatural means.

The Locale

Since this alleged discovery was made in White Deer Valley, we couldn't help but wonder if there was a possible link between the Native American "White Deer" legends and unicorns (which are often depicted as being white in color).  History tells us that there were several important Indian trails in the vicinity of White Deer Creek, including the Great Island Path and Culbertson's Path.  These trails were used by numerous tribes, beginning with the Susquehannock and ending with the Seneca (one of the six members of the Iroquois Six Nations) and the Lenape (also known as the Delaware).

Not surprisingly, the myth of the White Deer is most prevalent among the Seneca people, who believed that the appearance of a white deer was a prophetic sign.  White deer are still spotted occasionally around Pennsylvania, but what about unicorns?

Not long ago, the Longyear Museum of Anthropology (Colgate University) had an exhibition entitled "150 years of Iroquois beadwork" and, among the items displayed, was a beaded pincushion which depicted unicorns.

The unicorn of European folklore is occasionally described as having cloven hooves, in spite of the fact that no equine species have cloven hooves.  Deer, on the other hand, do have cloven (or "two-toed") hooves.  If unicorns did exist at one time, it stands to reason that they would be more related to animals which are capable of growing horns or antlers (goats, rams, deer, etc.) than animals such as horses, which don't have horns or cloven hooves.

Historically-Documented Sightings

The famed Dutch physician and writer, Dr. Olfert Dapper, in his 17th century book entitled Die Unbekante Neue Welt, wrote about the unicorns of the New World:

"On the Canadian border there are sometimes seen animals resembling horses, but with cloven roofs, rough manes, a long straight horn upon the forehead, a curled tail like that of the wild boar, black eyes, and a neck like that of the stag. They live in the loneliest wildernesses and are so shy that the males do not even pasture with the females except in the season of rut, when they are not so wild. As soon as this season is past, however, they fight not only with other beasts but even with those of their own kind."

If unicorns did roam the woodlands of America- the same lands occupied by the Iroquois- there is enough credible evidence to rule out the possibility that these creatures were related to horses.  Horses (as we know them) didn't even arrive in the New World until they were introduced by Spanish explorers in the 16th century.  Prior to that, the last known North American horses disappeared around 10,000 years ago- along with the wooly mammoth.

Dapper wasn't even the first person to write about the North American unicorn.  That honor goes to a priest by the name of Friar Marcus, who departed Mexico in 1539, accompanied by Stephen the Negro, in order to locate the legendary "Seven Cities of Gold", which turned out to be present-day Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.  While in America, Friar Marcus was shown the carcass of a unicorn.  He wrote that the natives showed him:

"an hide halfe as big againe as the hide of an Oxe, and said it was the skinne of a beast which had but one horne upon his forehead, bending toward his breast, and that out of the same goeth a point forward with which he breakes any thing that he runneth against."

These American unicorns were even seen by the treasurer and controller of the British Royal Navy, Sir John Hawkins.  Hawkins explored present-day Florida in 1564, and wrote:

"The Floridians have pieces of unicornes hornes which they wear about their necks, whereof the Frenchmen obtained many pieces. Of those unicornes they have many; for that they doe affirme it to be a beast with one horne, which comming to the river to drinke, putteth the same into the water before he drinketh. Of this unicornes horne there are of our company, that having gotten the same of the Frenchmen, brought home thereof to shew."

Prior to the 17th century, we have three credible witnesses who described unicorns in North America- a physician, a priest, and the controller of the entire British Navy.  One would be hard-pressed to find three more respectable and well-educated men of the era.


After a thorough examination of the specimen, we can say with 100% certainty that the skull is neither a hoax, nor a "gaff" (the likes of which are often found in carnivals and sideshows).  Unfortunately, we cannot definitively declare that the Pennsylvania specimen is a true unicorn either.  There exists the possibility that the animal in question may have been genetically abnormal- a "freak" of nature, like a two-headed chicken.  While two-headed chickens are born every now and then, the existence of these creatures does not indicate a separate species or variety of chicken.  Our opinion is that, until similar specimens are discovered, we can neither confirm or deny that the animal in question is a true unicorn.