Paleontologists have unearthed the fossils of a hoofed animal that lived approximately 55 million years ago. The recent discovery could help the scientists solve an evolutionary mystery.
The 55-million-year-old fossils belong to a mammal which may have weighed about 45-75 pounds and probably belong to a branch in the evolution tree right next to a large group of mammals that were the ancestors of our modern horses, rhinos and hippopotamus. The recent discovery was published online in the Nature Communications journal.
The 55-million-year-old fossils belong to Cambaytherium thewissi, which could be the “missing link” in solving an evolutionary enigma. The recently discovered bones have similar features to other lost mammals, the peissodactyls, which include rhinos, tapirs, hippopotamus and horses.
Kenneth Rose, one of the authors of the study said about the 55-million-year-old fossils that:
“It’s a transitional form; it’s a missing link, if you like. I don’t like that term, because all fossils really are missing links. Anything new is a missing link in your understanding.”
The scientists call the animal “an ancient rhino-horse” and they’ve managed to piece together more than 200 bone samples. They believe the animal may have lived in India after the land separated from the Madagascar almost 90 million years ago. The animal could have gone toward Asia where it lived for many millions of years.
Rose explained that:
“We think what we have is a remnant of the ancestral group that would’ve given rise to horses and tapirs and rhinos. And it’s on India, and therefore the possibility that perissodactyls actually diversified — evolved — on India has gone way up.”
If this theory is true, the ancestor of the horse may have come from African-Arabian land using some sort of a land bridge or island arc. The scientist added that this theory works only if the geologists are right about the time when the Indian land collided with modern Asia, driving up the Himalayan plateau.
The first fossils of the Cambaytherium were discovered over a period of 10 years in a coal mine in Gujarat, India. The paleontologists are trying to dig in other mines in order to find more fossils of the ancient animal.