A forgotten continent that sheds light on the evolution of mammals

A map showing Balcantria 40 million years ago and now. Credits: Alexis Licht & Grégoire Métais

A team of paleontologists and geologists from France, the United States, and Turkey, led by CNRS Researcher 1, discovered the existence of a forgotten continent called the Balkan Peninsula, which covers the current Balkan Peninsula and Anatolia. Previously inhabited by very special animals, they believe that 34 million years ago they made it possible for Asian mammals to colonize Europe. Their findings are published in the March 2022 volume. Earth science review..

Western Europe and East Asia formed two different land masses with very different mammalian fauna for millions of years during the New Century (55-34 million years ago). Although it is a horse today (similar to today’s tapirus), Asia was inhabited by a wider variety of animals, including the mammalian families found today on both continents.

About 34 million years ago, we know that Western Europe was colonized by Asian species, the fauna of vertebrates was significantly renewed, and its endemic species became extinct. mammalian, A sudden event called “Grande Coupure”. Surprisingly, fossils found on the Balkans indicate the presence of Asian mammals in Southern Europe long before Grande Coupure, suggesting early colonization.

A team now led by CNRS researchers has come up with an explanation for this paradox. To do this, they reviewed previous paleontological discoveries. Some of them date back to the 19th century and may be reassessed in the light of current geological data. This review reveals that for most of the Eocene, the regions corresponding to the current Balkan Peninsula and Anatolia are home to homogeneous but different terrestrial animals from the fauna of Europe and East Asia. Did. This exotic fauna included, for example, marsupials in South America and the Embrithopoda (large herbivorous mammals that resemble hippo) previously found in Africa. Therefore, this area must have constituted a single land separated from the adjacent continent.

Balcantria: A forgotten continent that sheds light on the evolution of mammals

Archaeological site excavated in Turkey (Büyükteflek). Credits: Alexis Licht & Grégoire Métais

The team also discovered new fossil deposits in Turkey (Büyükteflek) 38 to 35 million years ago. This resulted in an apparently Asian affinity and the earliest mammal ever discovered in Anatolia. They found a jaw fragment belonging to Brontotherium, a large rhino-like animal that died at the end of the Eocene.

All this information allowed the team to outline the history of this third Eurasian continent, called Balcantria, sandwiched between Europe, Africa and Asia. The continent, which already existed 50 million years ago and is inhabited by unique fauna, was colonized by Asian mammals 40 million years ago as a result of geographical changes that are not yet fully understood. .. It seems that the large-scale glacier action 34 million years ago formed the Antarctic ice sheet, lowered the sea level, connected Balcantria and Western Europe, and created “Grande Coupure”.

The newly discovered pseudo-horse species lived 37 million years ago.

For more information:
Alexis Licht et al, Balkanatolia: The island’s mammalian biogeographic state, partly paving the way to Grande Coupure. Earth science review (2022). DOI: 10.1016 / j.earscirev.2022.103929

Quote: Balkanatoria: The forgotten continent that sheds light on the evolution of mammals (February 21, 2022) is from https: // Acquired on February 21, 2022

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A forgotten continent that sheds light on the evolution of mammals

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