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Fossils: Small 48 million year old primitive horse that looked like a badger found in German oil well

A primitive horse the size of a small dog that resembled a badger is reconstructed after a skeleton of the 48-million-year-old species was found in a German oil well

  • The horse specimen was recovered in 2015 from the Messel Pit near Frankfurt
  • This UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its astonishingly well-preserved fossils
  • Propalaeotherium voigti is said to have searched small herds in subtropical forest
  • Horses did not develop long legs until the widespread emergence of pasture land
  • This shift in the environment forced them to adapt to better escape predators

A reconstruction of a primitive horse the size of a small dog has revealed that the 48-million-year-old creature may have looked like a modern badger.

The early equine animal – dubbed ‘Propalaeotherium voigti’ by experts – was excavated in 2015 in an oil well in Messel, near Frankfurt, in southern Germany.

The Messel Pit – recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the end of 1995 – is a disused quarry from which many remarkably preserved fossils have been recovered.

These include mammals, fish, beetles and even crocodiles and alligators.

A reconstruction of a primitive horse the size of a small dog has revealed that the 48-million-year-old creature may have looked like a modern badger. Pictured, the fossil of P. voigti

A reconstruction of a primitive horse the size of a small dog has revealed that the 48-million-year-old creature may have looked like a modern badger. Pictured, the fossil of P. voigti

Propalaeotherium voigti belonged to a lineage of ancestral horses native to both Europe and Asia during the early Eocene and broadly resembled the tapirs of present-day South America and Asia.

These creatures would have weighed only about 22 pounds (or 10 kilograms) and were about 20 inches (50 centimeters) long.

According to experts, P. voigti would have worn a coat very similar to that of a modern deer and would have lived in small herds.

The fossilized specimen’s short neck, arched back, and splayed nail ‘hooves’ – rather than the hooves of modern horses – indicate that it was adapted for a life of foraging amid the subtropical rainforests that once dominated Europe. covered.

Fossil evidence from the Messel oil well has even shown that the little horses ate berries and leaf matter picked from the forest floor.

It wasn’t until the late Eocene – about 33.9 million years ago – that horses generally began to develop longer legs and shift their weight on individual toes to better escape predation as their habitat shifted to pasture.

It was also this change that led the horse family to shift their diet from foliage to grass – selecting for the evolution of longer, more durable teeth.

Palaeontologist Martin Fischer of Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena collaborated with artists Amir Andikfar and Jonas Lauströer to convert a high-resolution computed tomography (or CT) scan of the Propalaeotherium voigti specimen into a 3D reconstruction, shown

Palaeontologist Martin Fischer of Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena collaborated with artists Amir Andikfar and Jonas Lauströer to convert a high-resolution computed tomography (or CT) scan of the Propalaeotherium voigti specimen into a 3D reconstruction, shown

Palaeontologist Martin Fischer of Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena collaborated with artists Amir Andikfar and Jonas Lauströer to convert a high-resolution computed tomography (or CT) scan of the Propalaeotherium voigti specimen into a 3D reconstruction, shown

Propalaeotherium voigti is recognized as the ‘heraldic animal’ by the Hessian Landesmuseum Darmstadt this year – the 25th anniversary of the Messel well to be awarded UNESCO status – by the Hessian Landesmuseum Darmstadt, which has the largest collection of fossils from the well.

Paleontologist Martin Fischer of Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena collaborated with artists Amir Andikfar and Jonas Lauströer to convert a high-resolution computed tomography (or CT) scan of the specimen into a 3D reconstruction.

The reconstruction can be seen in the Hessisch Landesmuseum Darmstadt from August 18, 2020.

The early equine animal - dubbed 'Propalaeotherium voigti' by experts - was excavated in 2015 in an oil well in Messel, near Frankfurt, in southern Germany. The Messel well - recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the end of 1995 - is no longer in use. quarry from which many remarkably preserved fossils have been found

The early equine animal - dubbed 'Propalaeotherium voigti' by experts - was excavated in 2015 in an oil well in Messel, near Frankfurt, in southern Germany. The Messel well - recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the end of 1995 - is no longer in use. quarry from which many remarkably preserved fossils have been found

The early equine animal – dubbed ‘Propalaeotherium voigti’ by experts – was excavated in 2015 in an oil well in Messel, near Frankfurt, in southern Germany. The Messel well – recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the end of 1995 – is no longer in use. quarry from which many remarkably preserved fossils have been found

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