Filling a gap in history

The island continent of India drifted for 70 million years through the Tethys Ocean. It separated from Gondwanaland about 120 million years ago and collided with the Eurasian continent around 50 million years ago. 70 million years is enough time for large families of animals to evolve and die. So there must have been families which arose in the Indian landmass and migrated to the rest of the world later. The first such family has now been identified.

These are the Cambaytheres, a genus of fossil animals found at the bottom of an open-cast lignite mine outside of Surat in Gujarat. These 57 million years old fossils seem to be the origin from which all modern even-toed ungulates radiated out. These include horses and zebras, tapirs, as well as rhinoceros. The Cambaytheres were first described in an article published 6 years ago but I read about it only recently from a monograph published this year. The Cambay shale deposits have also yielded a very rich variety of other fossils from those times, and I’m sure we’ll be reading more about new finds from them.

The monograph has a very clear statement that although the genus is not the direct ancestor to any extant even-toed ungulate, it is the best possibility for the last common ancestor of all of them. Previous claims to the origins of this family are based on fragmentary fossil remains, or, sometimes, on conjectural remains. By the early years of the 21st century the possibility that the ancestors of horses originate in the Americas, Europe, and Africa had already begun to seem remote. A lot of attention then focused on new findings in China. Now, with a large collection of remains, from three species of this genus, much more can be said. Mysteries which remain are the routes through which the animals dispersed across the world, and then radiated into a large number of species in a few tens of thousands of years.

Author: I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

5 thoughts on “Filling a gap in history”

  1. Is it then the same ancestors who got spread to different places and evolved in slightly different forms under different environments, like the Indian rhino and the African rhinos, with their slight differences? Or maybe the Asiatic elephant and the African elephant, or the lions?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed, it was cut short rather abruptly by some people walking into some prison in France.
        Although I personally doubt how clear-cut that date is. After all, the French Revolution really played out over ten years, sticking very closely to the calendarial century.

        Similarly, historians speak of the “long 19th century”, beginning in 1789 and ending in 1914 with World War I. Logically, that makes the 20th century shorter again, with some people putting its end around 1991 with the end of the Cold War.

        But I guess the Cambaytheres can only smile about all of this.

        Liked by 1 person

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