Did Ice Age giants’ ancestors originate in Tibet?

September 5th, 2011 - 11:25 am ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Sep 5 (IANS) A new fossil assemblage found in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region has suggested ancestors of some giant Ice Age mammals may have evolved in Tibet before the Ice Age started.

According to a statement of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the fossils from the high-altitude Zanda Basin at the foothills of the Himalayas, in southwestern Tibet, include the remains of the earliest known species of woolly rhino, one of the Ice Age’s most iconic mammals, Xinhua reported.

A number of major ice ages have occurred throughout Earth’s history.

The research was conducted by a team of Chinese and foreign scientists led by Deng Tao and Wang Xiaoming, researchers of the CAS’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Ice Age giant mammals have long been associated with their adaptations to cold-weather environments, including their large body size, long hair and snow-sweeping structures. They are best exemplified by woolly mammoths and woolly rhinos, the statement said.

The recently uncovered Tibetan woolly rhino — Coelodonta thibetana — lived in the middle Pliocene around 3.7 million years ago, before the Ice Age, or Pleistocene, began about 2.8 million years ago.

According to the statement, the woolly rhino is likely not the only case of a Tibetan cold-adapted ancestor of Ice Age giant mammals.

Cold winters in high-altitude Tibet served as a habituation ground for the Tibetan woolly rhino and the predecessors of some other Ice Age mammals, which became pre-adapted for the Ice Age, the statement said.

This means that these animals first evolved in Tibet, Deng Tao said.

The earliest Ice Age known took place during Precambrian time dating back over 570 million years. The most recent periods of widespread glaciation, an interval of time (thousands of years) within an ice age marked by colder temperatures and glacier advances, occurred during the Pleistocene Epoch (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago).

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