Although the panda species are only located in China, a new discovery suggests that it might not have originated there. In the small town of Rudabánya in Hungary, which was the site where the remains of an ancient great ape called Rudapithecus was found, palaeoanthropologist David Begun was searching for ancient hominid bones when he spotted a set of fossil teeth trapped under a rhino’s shoulder blade.
The newly discovered teeth are dated 10 million years old--during the late Miocene period. Because of the teeth’s shape, Begun suspected that they belonged to a panda. And upon further analysis of the teeth and with the help of Louis de Bonis at the University of Poitiers in France, boy was he right, it's similar to the modern panda!
“Both species consumed tough plant foods, requiring shearing rather than crushing of food during chewing,” says de Bonis. “This tells us that the way of life of the panda’s ancestors was very similar to the modern panda.” The researchers called the new species Miomaci panonnicum. “Miomaci could be considered not like a direct ancestor, but more like a ‘cousin’ of the modern panda,” says de Bonis.
Scientists also discovered teeth of the specie Kretzoiarctos Beatrix, which is possibly the oldest known direct ancestor of giant pandas. It was discovered in Spain in 2012 and was 11.6 million years old.
“There are interesting similarities between animal fossils found in some European and Chinese sites in the late Miocene period, suggesting that there may have been a lot of travelling between the two areas,” says Begun.
Back then in the late Miocene period, Europe was warmer and wetter than it is today, indicating that the area where Miomaci lived was a subtropical forest area full of flora and fauna. And around 5 million years ago, the forests started to disappear, and could result in the disappearance of the European pandas. “The environment cooled and dried out,” says de Bonis. “There was a change in the faunas in Europe, and the species linked to dense warm forest disappeared.”
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