CLEVELANDTwo teams of researchers, including a scientist from Case Western Reserve University, have announced the discovery of a new species of fossil horse from 4.4 million-year-old fossil-rich deposits in Ethiopia.
About the size of a small zebra, Eurygnathohippus woldegabrielinamed for geologist Giday WoldeGabriel, who earned his PhD at Case Western Reserve in 1987had three-toed hooves and grazed the grasslands and shrubby woods in the Afar Region, the scientists say.
They report their findings in the November issue of Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The horse fills a gap in the evolutionary history of horses but is also important for documenting how old a fossil locality is and in reconstructing habitats of human forebears of the time, said Scott Simpson, professor of anatomy at Case Western Reserve's School of Medicine, and coauthor of the research. "This horse is one piece of a very complex puzzle that has many, many pieces."
The researchers found the first E. woldegabrieli teeth and bones in 2001, in the Gona area of the Afar Region. This fossil horse was among the diverse array of animals that lived in the same areas as the ancient human ancestor Ardipithecus ramidus, commonly called Ardi.
"The fossil search team spreads out to survey for fossils in the now arid badlands of the Ethiopian desert.," Simpson said. "Among the many fossils we found are the two ends of the foreleg bonethe canonbrilliant white and well preserved in the red-tinted earth."
A year later, they returned and found part of the connecting shaft, which was split lengthwise but provided the crucial full length of the bone. The long slender bone indicates this ancient species was an adept runner, similar to modern zebras, and analyses of their teeth indicated they relied heavily on eating grasses in the grassy woodland environment.
The horse had longer legs than ancestral horses that live
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