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A lost continent that is at least 50 million years old has just been discovered

A lost continent that is at least 50 million years old has just been discovered

Fossil site of Büyükteflek in Turkey – © Alexis Licht & Grégoire Métais

An international team of scientists has identified a forgotten continent, having allowed mammals from Asia to settle in Europe several tens of millions of years ago.

lingering puzzle

through a lot ofEocene (55 to 34 million years ago), wasWestern Europe and theEast Asia It formed two separate blocks of land, home to very different groups of mammals. Whereas European forests were home to endemic animals including paleotheres (extinct creatures vaguely related to modern horses but very similar to tapirs),Asiathe most cosmopolitan, comprises the families of mammals found today on these two continents.

About 34 million years ago, it wasWestern Europe It was colonized by the original speciesAsia, which led to a large turnover of vertebrates and the extinction of their endemic mammals. Surprisingly, the fossils found in Balkans He indicated that there were Asian mammals in the southEurope Long before this brutal event, known as A great break which suggested earlier colonialism.

Published in the magazine Earth Science Reviewsa recent work supervised by researchers from CNRS highlight this apparent contradiction. Re-examination of 19th-century fossil finds, sometimes involving re-dating based on recent geological data, has revealed that, over the course of several million years, the region corresponding to Balkans and others’Anatolia The currents initially accommodated homogeneous terrestrial animals, but differ from those ofEurope And theEast Asia.

The Balkans 40 million years ago (top) and today (bottom) – © Alexis Licht & Grégoire Métais


These particularly curious animals included marsupials and embrithopods (huge herbivorous mammals similar to hippos) once found in Africa, implying that the newly identified area was a distinct land mass, separated from neighboring continents.

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Researchers have also identified a new fossil site in TurkeyHome to the oldest mammal remains ever discovered Anatolia. Of apparent Asian convergence and dating from 35 to 38 million years ago, these parts particularly included fragments of the jaws of brontotheres, great rhino-like animals that eventually died out.Eocene.

Such discoveries make it possible to determine the history of this ancient continent sandwiched betweenEuropeme’Africa and theAsiamay have formed more than 50 million years ago which researchers logically baptize” Balkantolia While the geographical changes that caused their initial colonization by Asian mammals about 40 million years ago are still to be determined, the A great break “Maybe it intervened following the period of glaciation that allowed the formation of the ice sheet.” South Pole Which, by lowering the sea level, made it possible to connect the lost continent withWestern Europe.

Brontothera molar – © Alexis Licht & Grégoire Métais