Paleontologists Discover Mysterious Hoofed Animal That Roamed India 54 Million Years Ago

One of the three fossil jaw bones of Pahelia mysteriosa found at the Tadkeshwar mine. P. mysteriosa belongs to a newly described family of ungulates that lived 54 million years ago in India. (Photo: Thierry Smith, RBINS)
22/11/2019
Paleontologists Discover Mysterious Hoofed Animal That Roamed India 54 Million Years Ago
post by
Reinout Verbeke

Belgian paleontologists have discovered a new family of ungulates that lived in India some 54 million years ago.

A team of Belgian, American and Indian paleontologists excavated three pieces of jawbone in 2015 and 2018 at the Tadkeshwar mine in the West Indian province of Gujarat. The jawbones do not resemble those of known mammals from that era, the early Eocene. According to the paleontologists, including Thierry Smith (RBINS), they belong to a new species and even to a new genus and a new family. The animal is characterized by two lower jaw bones that are fused. They named the animal - which probably had the size and appearance of a hyrax - Pahelia mysteriosa. Paheli is Hindi for riddle: the researchers are referring to the uncertain ancestry of this animal.

The paleontologists meticulously compared the small fossilized jawbones with those of early Eocene mammals of the African and European continent, and of India itself. In each case, they identified both similarities and differences. So it remains unclear where this animal comes from.

Three possible routes

There are three scenarios: either this animal originates from African ancestors who migrated to India when the land mass was still attached to southern Africa 88 million years ago. Or from mammals that evolved in India itself when it was an island adrift in the Indian Ocean. Or, third scenario, P. mysteriosa ended up in India after it collided with Asia after which a route was opened up to Europe. In that case the animal has European ancestors, or vice versa: the European ungulates are descendants of this Indian grazer.

The study appeared in Papers in Palaeontology. Thierry Smith and colleagues have described other early ungulates from India. In 2014, the team published about a 54.5 million year old ancestor of the odd-toed ungulates, such as horses and rhinos.

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