A 27-million-year-old fossil uncovered recently could be the “missing link” between modern elephants and their ancestors, scientists have stated.

Researchers led by Jeheskel Shoshani of the University of Amara in Eritrea recently unearthed the lower part of a mandible in the northeast African country of Eritrea.

 The unearthed tooth had a structure transitional in shape between modern and ancient elephants. “This is really pointing toward the Horn of Africa as being a real hot bed for the evolution of elephants,” said study team member William Sanders of the Museum of Paleontology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The new species, named Eritreum melakeghebrekristosi, is estimated to have weighed 1,067 pounds and stood 4.2 feet tall at the shoulder. Their height is far smaller than modern elephants, the researchers observe in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Asian and African elephants are the only living members of the order Probiscideans, a group of mammals that includes elephants and their extinct relatives. About 24 million years ago, the Proboscideans divided into two groups: Elephantida, which comprise of elephants and mammoths, and Mammutida, or the mastodons.

Before this discovery and a few others around the Horn of Africa, there were no Proboscidean fossils uncovered for the period 25 to 28 million years ago. As members of the Elephantida mutated, they got bigger and developed more intricate features, such as the presence of advanced molars for grinding food.

The find is the oldest known fossil showing the so-called horizontal tooth displacement that can be seen in modern elephants. http://www.spiritualityguide.com

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