28 May 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Balkanatolia: The Forgotten Continent That Sheds Light On The Evolution Of Mammals

A team of French, American and Turkish paleontologists and geologists led by CNRS researchers has discovered the existence of a forgotten continent they have dubbed Balkanatolia, which today covers the present-day Balkans and Anatolia. 

Formerly inhabited by a highly specific fauna, they believe that it enabled mammals from Asia to colonize Europe 34 million years ago. 

For millions of years during the Eocene Epoch (55 to 34 million years ago), Western Europe and Eastern Asia formed two distinct land masses with very different mammalian faunas: European forests were home to endemic fauna such as Palaeotheres (an extinct group distantly related to present-day horses, but more like today’s tapirs), whereas Asia was populated by a more diverse fauna including the mammal families found today on both continents.

Map showing Balkanatolia 40 million years ago and at the present day [Credit: Alexis Licht & Grégoire Métais]
Map showing Balkanatolia 40 million years ago and at the present day [Alexis Licht & Grégoire Métais]

We know that, around 34 million years ago, Western Europe was colonized by Asian species, leading to a major renewal of vertebrate fauna and the extinction of its endemic mammals, a sudden event called the “Grande Coupure.” Surprisingly, fossils found in the Balkans point to the presence of Asian mammals in southern Europe long before the Grande Coupure, suggesting earlier colonization.

Now, a team led by CNRS researchers has come up with an explanation for this paradox. To do this, they reviewed earlier palaeontological discoveries, some of which date back to the 19th century, sometimes reassessing their dating in the light of current geological data. The review revealed that, for much of the Eocene, the region corresponding to the present-day Balkans and Anatolia was home to a terrestrial fauna that was homogeneous, but distinct from those of Europe and eastern Asia. This exotic fauna included, for example, marsupials of South American affinity and Embrithopoda (large herbivorous mammals resembling hippopotamuses) formerly found in Africa. The region must therefore have made up a single land mass, separated from the neighboring continents.

The team also discovered a new fossil deposit in Turkey (Büyükteflek) dating from 38 to 35 million years ago, which yielded mammals whose affinity was clearly Asian, and are the earliest discovered in Anatolia until now. They found jaw fragments belonging to Brontotheres, animals resembling large rhinoceroses that died out at the end of the Eocene.

Site excavated in Turkey (Büyükteflek) [Credit: Alexis Licht & Grégoire Métais]
Site excavated in Turkey (Büyükteflek). [Alexis Licht & Grégoire Métais]

All this information enabled the team to outline the history of this third Eurasian continent, wedged between Europe, Africa, and Asia, which they dubbed Balkanatolia. The continent, already in existence 50 million years ago and home to a unique fauna, was colonized 40 million years ago by Asian mammals as a result of geographical changes that have yet to be fully understood. It seems likely that a major glaciation 34 million years ago, leading to the formation of the Antarctic ice sheet and lowering sea levels, connected Balkanatolia to Western Europe, giving rise to the “Grande Coupure.”

Their findings are published in Earth Science Reviews.

CNRS

Cover Photo: Upper molar of a Brontothere mammal of Asian origin [Photo: Alexis Licht & Grégoire Métais]

Related Articles

Unsolvable Megalithic Mystery of ancient Greek “Dragon Houses”

4 July 2022

4 July 2022

The Dragon Houses of Euboea, which probably dates to the Preclassical period of ancient Greece, are one of the historical...

The World’s Largest Pyramid Is Hidden Within a Hill in Mexico

8 October 2022

8 October 2022

The largest and tallest pyramids in the world are incredible feats of design, engineering, and construction. The Great Pyramid of...

The 1000-year Curse of the Croatian King Zvonimir

26 September 2023

26 September 2023

Croatia is a fascinating country that continually rises up people’s must-visit lists thanks to its sparkling Adriatic coastline, 1,244 islands,...

2000-Year-Old Marvel: The Mystery of the Parthian Battery

1 March 2024

1 March 2024

The Parthian Battery is believed to be about 2000 years old (from the Parthian period, roughly 250 BCE to CE...

Queen Kubaba: Some 4,500 years ago, a woman rose to power and reigned over one of the largest civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia

28 December 2023

28 December 2023

Is it possible to say who was the first queen in history? Given the size and diversity of human civilization,...

Michelangelo, the artistic giant, was actually rather short

3 September 2021

3 September 2021

The legendary Michelangelo Buonarroti left huge works behind as an artist. But Italian researchers found that the shoes of this...

Foundations laid with human blood “Foundation sacrifices”

5 September 2021

5 September 2021

The custom of sacrificing a human being at the erection of a new house or fortress is very old. Foundation...

500-year-old Inca mummy, as if in a deep sleep “La Doncella”

24 August 2021

24 August 2021

Three Inca mummies found near the high Volcán Llullaillaco peak in Argentina in 1999 stunned all scientists. The 3 Incas...

Martyr Skeletons Dressed in Jewels “Catacomb Saints”

16 September 2021

16 September 2021

The story of the saints in the catacombs of Northern Europe is a peculiar story. It is rooted in the...

The 11-meter giant statue of the island of Naxos “Dionysus of Apollonas”

22 March 2023

22 March 2023

One of the two ancient marble quarries, thought to have begun the sculpture, the greatest art of antiquity, is located...

Bristol Redcliff Quarter’s outstanding medieval knife

17 May 2022

17 May 2022

In 2017 and 2018, Cotswold Archeology and Oxford Archeology, in a joint venture, undertook excavations ahead of redevelopment at Redcliff...

Istanbul’s Iron Church of Unique Beauty

1 November 2021

1 November 2021

The Bulgarian Church of St. Stephens was constructed like a cross-shaped Basilica. St. Stephen Church is also known as The...

Ancient musical instrument “Chang” symbolizing Azerbaijan’s rich cultural heritage

16 March 2022

16 March 2022

Harp is a world-famous, ancient, stringed musical instrument. Chang, in terms of structure, is a harp-like stringed musical instrument. The...

Egypt’s Lost city “Thonis-Heracleion”

6 September 2021

6 September 2021

Thonis-Heracleion (Egyptian and Greek names of the city) is a port city lost between myth and reality until 1999. Few...

“Nikasitimos Was Here Mounting Timiona,” 2,500-year-old erotic graffiti on Astypalaia, Greece

7 April 2024

7 April 2024

In 2014, an archaeologist working on Astypalaia, a remote Greek island of the Dodecanese discovered one of the world’s oldest...