The Ice Age, which arrived 2.6 million years ago, was dominated by large, woolly mammals adapted to the cold climate.
A new study published in Science - led by Xiaoming Wang from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Qiang Li of the Chinese Academy of Sciences - suggested that a number of these creatures possibly originated from Tibet.
The study highlighted the fossils of a primitive woolly rhinoceros discovered at the foothills of the Himalayas in the southwestern Tibet Plateau.
The creature was 3.6 million years old (the Ice Age arrived about 1 million years later) and displayed more primitive features that the Ice Age's woolly rhino.
However, it did have traits that enabled it to survive in the harsh cold environment of Tibet, including a flattened horn that swept the snow to reveal vegetation.
The creature was pre-adapted for the future Ice Age climate, stated a press release from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
When the Ice Age finally came, the rhino may have simply descended from the mountains and expanded to Asia and Europe.
In addition to the rhino, the paleontologists also found extinct species of the three-toed horse (Hipparion), Tibetan bharal (Pseudois, also known as blue sheep), chiru (Pantholops, also known as Tibetan antelope), snow leopard (Uncia), badger (Meles), and 23 other kinds of mammals in the Tibet area.
The study posits that Tibet may have been the ancestral home of several successful members of the Ice Age mammoth fauna in Europe, Asia, and even North America; the area might have been another cradle of the Ice Age giants, stated the press release.
Previously, scientists have mostly looked to the Arctic tundra or other cold steppes for the origin of these large Ice Age mammals.
Cold places, such as Tibet, Arctic, and Antarctic, are where the most unexpected discoveries will be made in the future - these are the remaining frontiers that are still largely unexplored, said Wang.