Dwarf hippopotamus fossils discovered on Cyprus

Hippo family tree

From Associated Press:

Dwarf Hippo Fossils Found on Cyprus

Associated Press Writer

AYIA NAPA, Cyprus – An abattoir used by early Cypriots, a place where animals went to die, or a shelter that ultimately proved a death trap?

Cypriot and Greek scientists are studying a collapsed cave filled with the fossilized remains of extinct dwarf hippopotamuses – descendants of hippos believed to have reached the island a quarter-million years ago.

Paleontologists have unearthed an estimated 80 dwarf hippos in recent digs at the site just outside the resort of Ayia Napa on the island’s southeastern coast. Hundreds more may lie beneath an exposed layer of jumbled fossils.

Scientists hope the fossil haul, tentatively dated to 9,000-11,500 B.C., could offer clues to when humans first set foot on this Mediterranean island.

“It’s about our origins,” said Ioannis Panayides, the Cyprus Geological Survey Department official in charge of the excavations in conjunction with the University of Athens. “Knowledge of our geological history makes us more knowledgeable about ourselves.”

Until the Ayia Napa discovery, the earliest trace of humans on Cyprus dated to 8,000 B.C. But signs of human activity at the new dig could turn back the clock on the first Cypriots by as much as 3,500 years.

“That’s very significant, but we can’t be certain yet. The task of examining is laborious and time consuming,” said University of Athens Professor George Theodorou, who is tasked with examining some 1.5 tons of fossils.

The dwarf hippopotamuses were herbivores, like their modern cousins, but were only about 2 1/2 feet tall and 4 feet long. Unlike modern hippos, whose upturned nostrils seem designed for swimming, Cypriot hippos had low-slung nostrils better suited to foraging on land.

Panayides said the fossils show the Cypriot hippos had legs and feet adapted to land, enabling them to stand on their hind legs to reach tree branches.

Experts believe hippos arrived on Cyprus between 100,000 to 250,000 ago, and likely got smaller to adapt to the hilly island landscape. But scientists do not know how the animals reached Cyprus, which has never been physically linked to another land mass.

Panayides said paleontologists theorize hippos may have swum or floated here during a Pleistocene ice age from land that is now Turkey or Syria. They may have clung to tree trunks and other debris during the crossing.

Lower sea levels at the time made Cyprus much larger than its present 3,570 square miles, meaning it was much closer to other lands. By some estimates, what is now Syria was a mere 18 miles away.

Digs over the last century uncovered smaller numbers of dwarf hippo fossils at 40 locations across Cyprus. One cave found 20 years ago had evidence of fire, stone tools and scorched bones indicating dwarf hippos were hunted by humans.

Carbon dating on those hippo fossils showed the site dated to 8,000 B.C. Evidence of human activity at Ayia Napa means the island may have been settled by humans as much as 3,500 years earlier.

A human footprint at the Ayia Napa site could bolster the theory that the island’s earliest inhabitants could have driven the dwarf hippos to extinction through hunting, said Panayides.

The report does not say whether the remains of the dwarf hippos are of the pygmy hippo species of today; probably, they are not. Probably, they are of the Cyprus dwarf hippo species. The modern pygmy hippo only lives in Africa, and is also less adapted to water than the big hippopotamus.

Did ancient humans cause the extinction of the pygmy hippo [in Cyprus]? Here.

Evolution of hippos: here.

Is this the largest invasive species in the world? Hippos in Colombia: here.

Pygmy hippo born in Rotterdam zoo: here.

Hares, birds and orchids: the casualties of peace in Cyprus: here.

5 thoughts on “Dwarf hippopotamus fossils discovered on Cyprus

  1. New crossing links Cypriots

    Cyprus: The ethnically divided island was linked on Thursday by a new crossing point between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

    The opening of the Limnitis-Yesilirmak crossing in the island’s remote north-west met a decades-long demand for shorter travelling times between the two communities which would help the region’s development.

    The crossing gives the villagers access to Nicosia via a direct route through the northern part of the island, cutting a 124-mile round trip down to 44 miles.



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