Hopkins Researchers Find Ancient Horse Ancestor

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Image via Elaine Kasmer
Image via Elaine Kasmer

Though they look very different today, horses and rhinos share a common ancestry.

Both belong to the biological order Perissodactyla, and until recently their origins could be traced back to the Eocene epoch about 56 million years ago.

But thanks to recent research by Johns Hopkins researchers and others, we now have a better understanding of the deep evolutionary history of horses, rhinos, and other mammals. Excavating a Western India open-pit coal mine revealed teeth, bones, and other fossils that helped researchers reconstruct a little known animal they call Cambaytherium thewissi.

“Many of Cambaytherium’s features, like the teeth, the number of sacral vertebrae, and the bones of the hands and feet, are intermediate between Perissodactyla and more primitive animals,” Ken Rose, a professor of functional anatomy and evolution at Johns Hopkins told the JHU Hub. “This is the closest thing we’ve found to a common ancestor of the Perissodactyla order.”

The researchers also posit that Cambaytherium was active when India was an island–that is, before continental plate shifts made it collide and fuse with the rest of Asia. They hypothesize that Cambaytherium and a few other groups of mammals may have evolved when India was an isolated island.



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