New Delhi: The plump animals, such as horses and rhinos, evolved from a strange sheep-sized animal that looked like a cross between a pig and a dog and roamed India about 55 million years ago, researchers said.
Experts from Johns Hopkins University, who explored mines in Gujarat, have discovered the remains of a strange creature called Comptorium. Camboderium is an extinct relative of perisodactyls (a group of mammals including horses, rhinos and tapirs) that inhabited the Indian subcontinent nearly 55 million years ago.
The first voyage to Rajasthan was unsuccessful in 2001. “On that voyage we found only a few fish bones. The following year our Indian colleague Rajendra Rana came to the Vastan mine in Gujarat to explore the lignite mines in the south,” said Emeritus Professor Johns Hopkins University and Editor-in-Chief of the study. This new mine is very promising.
“In 2004, our team was able to return to the mine, where our Belgian collaborator, Thierry Smith, discovered the first mammalian fossils, including Competherium,” Rose told the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The motivated team returned to the mines in Gujarat and collected the fossil bones of Kampetheerium and many other vertebrae despite the challenging conditions.
Cambodia represents an evolutionary stage that is older than any known perisodactyl, supporting the origin of the group in or near India – before they were dispersed to other continents when the land link with Asia was formed.
The researchers said the animal may have evolved while India was still an island. These results confirm a theory first proposed 30 years ago that India knew the origin of horses as they headed north from Madagascar.
“In the 1990s, Cross & Mass proposed that these orders may have originated in India, when it moved north from Madagascar and spread across the northern continents when India collided with Asia,” Rose said.
The latest discovery marks the culmination of a 15 – year mission by a team of researchers from around the world and brings together the complete skeletal anatomy of Comptorium from more than 350 fossils found across India.
Despite the abundance of perisodactyls in the Northern Hemisphere, Cambodia suggests that this group may have formed in isolation in or near India during the Paleocene (66-56 million years ago) before scattering to other continents when the land link with Asia formed.
Camboderium, first described in 2005, is the oldest member of an extinct group that branched out shortly before the evolution of perisotactyls.