A 48-million-year-old ancestral horse like you’ve never seen before

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Scientists’ interpretation of how Propalaeotherium voigti looked.

Cutting-edge techniques have been used by specialists in Germany to create life-size reconstructions of a small horse that lived 48 million years ago.

The complete skeleton of the horse, which is about the size of a small dog, was found in 2015 in the Messel Pit, near Frankfurt, a site in southern Germany renowned for its trove of well-preserved fossils.

The early equid, Propalaeotherium voigti, is in a genus of ancestral horses native to both Europe and Asia during the early Eocene epoch.

These animals broadly resembled the modern-day tapirs of South America and Asia.

The creature’s skeleton was carefully recreated based on scans of the fossil remains.

Scientists believe the ancestral horse weighed about 10 kilograms and stood just 50cm tall.

Its coat is believed to have been similar to that of a deer.

It probably lived in small herds in subtropical rainforests, probably living on berries and leaf matter from the forest floor.

Horses did not begin to evolve longer legs and adapt to life in open grasslands until around 33 million years ago, leading to the evolution of the modern-day horse hoof and teeth better suited to eating grass.

The fossilized remains recovered from the Messel Pit.

Professor Martin Fischer, from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, worked with illustrators Amir Andikfar and Jonas Laustroer on the reconstruction of the animal, based on high-resolution CT scans of the skeletal remains.

Software was used to make three-dimensional renderings, to ensure the reconstruction was as accurate as possible.

Their work is now on display at the Hessian Landesmuseum Darmstadt.

The skeletal reconstruction on display at the Hessian Landesmuseum Darmstadt.

 

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