An Irishman, who bought a £47 artefact, has discovered that the object is actually an Ice Age-era fossil and way more precious than he originally thought.
George Mealy got the 6-inch tall wooden figurine from a store in Chefchaouen, a town in the Rif Mountains of northwest Morocco. Due to his hobby of collecting rare artefacts, he was quick to negotiate and buy the object, the Irish Times reported.
The relic appeared to be a wooden structure painted with lacquer. However, with no clue of its history, Mealy's best guess was the artefact dated back to the 15th century as it resembled Yongle, a Chinese emperor from that time.
He studied the object for long but with no solid result. He then decided to take the artefact to Oxford for radiocarbon dating analysis.
When the archaeologists studied the subject's composition, they were totally surprised. The relic was not made of wood, but of a 25,000-year old fossil of a woolly rhino, which thrived during the Ice Age.
The object was carved out of the horn of the now-extinct mammal. As the report notes, the existence of woolly rhino has been confirmed with several cave paintings and mummified remains unearthed in Syria and Tibet.
It remains unclear how the fossil was transformed into a figurine representing a Chinese emperor and made it's way to Moroccan antique shop. However, the history of jade and rhino horn carvings in Imperial China points that a craftsman might have found the rare horn and carved a figurine out of it.
As the value of the relic has now skyrocketed to £25,000, Mealy plans to sell it next month. Trading of relics carved out of rhino horns is illegal in Ireland, but that is unlikely to be a problem in this particular case as objects made from extinct species can be sold under strict supervision and specific regulations.