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The Rise of Horses - 55 million years of evolution

by Jens Lorenz Franzen (translated by Kirsten M Brown). Originally published in 2006 as Die Urpferde der Morgenröte: Ursprung und Evolution der Pferde. Johns Hopkins University Press. Hardcover 2010, 213pp incl credits, RRP $US65. ISBN: 0801893739 EAN: 9780801893735.

December 14, 2010

This is an invaluable reference of the evolution of the horse, written by one of the world's leading experts on the topic.

What an incredible evolutionary path the animal we know today as the horse "equus caballus" has taken over the millennia. From the time when 'the dawn horse' was about the size of a creature about the size of a large rabbit, and known as Propalaeotherium and Hyracotherium, and later Eurohippus messelensis, the evolution of the equine has followed many extraordinary paths. Franzen discusses how the horse's various ancestors either developed or became extinct, and the relationship of today's horse to its perissodactyl (odd-toed ungulates) mates, such as as the tapir and rhinoceros.

Important archaeological finds in various continents are examined. The extensive fossil record in Germany has left many clues - and perhaps more mysteries - about early horse. Franzen's overview and analysis of these sites - particularly Messel and Eckfeld - is an excellent wrap of finds thus far.

The book is very well illustrated with high-quality images of the ancient finds, as well as drawings, charts and illustrations to bring the text to life.

The two areas that seem to give modern-day horses and their owners the most grief - the teeth and the feet - are not surprisingly discussed at length, particularly the latter.

A small tooth found in a clay pit in Britain in 1838 was the first step on the horse's paleontological research path. A skull turned up in another area a year later. "Modern opinion holds that they [Hyracotherium leporinum] were the remains of the 55-million-year-old stem father of all modern and fossil horses," Fransen writes. But at the time, they were not recognised at such. And on the other side of the Atlantic, a North American evolutionary progression was also being formed. Early finds have been revealed as Eohippus, the North American representative of Hyracotherium.

But there is much more. This is a must-have for the student of the horse and its history. While not a light read, it's a definitive volume and an invaluable reference.



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