60-mln yr old rabbit-sized elephant ancestor found in Morocco

June 24th, 2009 - 12:27 pm ICT by ANI  

National Geographic Washington, June 24 (ANI): Scientists have found the fossil of a 60-million-year-old creature in Morocco, which is the rabbit sized ancestor of the modern day elephant.

According to a report in National Geographic News, Paleontologist Emmanuel Gheerbrant discovered the rabbit-size proto-elephant’s skull fragments in a basin 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Casablanca, Morocco.

The creature, called Eritherium azzouzorum, bolsters the case that whole new orders of mammals were already around less than 6 million years after global catastrophe ended the age of reptiles some 65.5 million years ago.

Elephant ancestors now join the likes of rodents and early primates as some of the first known mammals to walk the Earth during the Paleocene era, 65.5 to 55 million years ago (prehistoric time line), according to Gheerbrant.

“Much of the story of the newly discovered creature can be found in its teeth,” said Gheerbrant, of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Two of the creature’s lower front teeth jut a fraction of an inch out from its jaw. No other fossils of the time have teeth like this.

“This is some kind of precursor of the tusk of the more modern (elephant),” Gheerbrant said.

Based on the skull fragments, Gheerbrant guessed that the proto-elephant was probably no more than 20 inches (50 centimeters), tip to tail-”something like a very large rabbit,” size wise.

Because the find consists of skull and jaw fragments only, Gheerbrant said there’s not enough evidence to know what it looked like-or whether it had anything resembling a trunk or elephantine ears.

Sixty million years ago, Africa was lush with vegetation and disconnected from the Eurasian continent to the north.

The continent was an evolutionary hotbed, Gheerbrant said.

“The rise of elephant-like mammals hot on dinosaurs’ heels suggests there are many more mammals from the period to be found,” he said.

“More fossil hunts are needed to uncover how evolution put mammals center stage once the reptilian resource hogs had gone,” he added. (ANI)

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