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1 November 2017
Ancient Fossil Offers a New European Ancestor to Giraffes
A near-perfect fossil unearthed close to Madrid appears to be an ancient European ancestor of giraffes, representing a new species in the family and one that had two sets of bony bumps on its head rather than the single set of modern giraffes.
Older fossils in the family known as giraffids have been found before, but none in such pristine condition, said Ari Grossman, an associate professor of anatomy at Midwestern University in Glendale, Ariz., who was not involved in the finding but said the whole field would benefit from it.
“It’s something most paleontologists dream of and very rarely find,” Dr. Grossman said. “The discovery in and of itself was breathtaking.”
Fossils of three other animals of the same species named Decennatherium rex by the researchers were also found, according to a new study in the journal PLOS One. They were not as complete, but all are about nine million years old and provide evidence that ancestors in the giraffe family lived deep inside Europe much earlier than had been suspected. The fossils also suggest that there were physical differences between males and females.
From PLOS ONE:
Newly described giraffid species may help trace evolution of giraffe ancestors
Unusually complete fossil extends range, timespan of sivathere-samothere giraffids
November 1, 2017
A new giraffid species from Spain may extend the range and timespan of the ancestors of giraffes, according to a study published November 1, 2017 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by María Ríos from the National Museum of Natural History, Spain, and colleagues.
The giraffids, a family of ruminants that includes modern day giraffes and okapis, are thought to have existed as far back as the early Miocene epoch. While fossils from over 30 extinct species have been described, the lack of fossilised skulls has been a barrier to determining evolutionary relationships.
The authors of the present study describe a new large giraffid species, named Decennatherium rex sp. nov., from the Spanish province of Madrid. The fossilized skeleton is thought to date from the late Miocene and is unusually complete, providing the researchers with new anatomical and phylogenetic data.
The authors conducted a phylogenetic analysis to help elucidate evolutionary patterns. The results suggest that the Decennatherium genus may have been the most basal branch of a clade of now-extinct giraffids containing both sivatheres, the largest known giraffids, and samotheres, whose appearance was somewhere in between that of okapis and giraffes. All giraffids in this group feature four horn-like skull protuberances known as ossicones, two over the eyes and two larger ridged ossicones at the back of its head. The authors state that Decennatherium was likely the earliest-evolving example of this ossicone layout.
The inclusion of Decennatherium in the sivathere-samothere clade would extend its timespan back to the early late Miocene and its range as far as the Iberian peninsula, making the clade one of the most successful and long-lived of all the giraffids.
As Ríos summarizes: “New four horned extinct giraffid Decennatherium rex from Cerro de los Batallones (9my, Madrid) sheds light on the evolution of the giraffid family and the extinct giant Sivatherium.”