Ancient Horse Bones Tell Story of Tibetan Plateau

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Baku, April 24 (AZERTAC). A newly discovered skeleton from an ancient three-toed horse not only provides information about ancient Tibetan wildlife, but it also sheds light on the habitat and elevation of Tibet nearly 5 million years ago.

This area of the world, called the Tibetan plateau, is the youngest and highest plateau on Earth, its average elevation exceeding 14,800 feet (4,500 meters), but researchers don`t know exactly when this happened. Some researchers think those 5 million years ago, the plateau was once much higher than it is today, but others think it was much lower.

More data is needed to get a good grip on when the plateau rose up, and these researchers used the fossilized horse to shed some light on the debate.

“We have an extinct horse that apparently is adapted to grasslands, these open nonwooded areas,” study researcher Xiaoming Wang, of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, told LiveScience. “Therefore, in turn, it might have some implications about the environment that it came from.”

The horse also had teeth characteristics of a grazer, the researchers said, further supporting the idea that the area was open grassland when the horse lived.

One of the researchers, Yang Wang of Florida State University, analyzed the chemicals contained within the fossils to get an idea of what kinds of grasses the horses ate. She was able to tell that these horses ate plants that were characteristic of a cold, open land similar to that seen in the Zanda Basin today.

“Those earlier horses have similar diet to the wild asses living in the area. They are grazing on grasses that are adapted to the cold,” Wang said. “It`s a high elevation environment, but exactly how high we don`t know.”

The researchers estimate those 4.6 million years ago, when these horses roamed the area, it was about 1,300 feet (400 m) higher than the modern tree line, and probably about the same elevation as it is today.


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