The accompanying study is published May 16 in the journal PLoS ONE. The Rhine is not an unknown entity in Europe -- on its journey tothe North Sea it flows through Switzerland, Austria, Germany andthe Netherlands. In addition, the catchment area of the river,which is around 1,233 kilometres long, also encompasses almost allof Luxembourg as well as small parts of Belgium, France,Liechtenstein and Italy. Yet as famous as the river may be, itsoriginal age is still disputed. "Up to now it has been assumed that the Proto-Rhine is aroundten million years old," explains Prof. |
Madelaine Böhme,leading author of the study and head of the HEP working group"Terrestrial Palaeoclimatology," and continues: "Butbased on our examination of fossils from a site near Sprendlingenwe now believe that the river is at least five million yearsolder." The mammalian fossils in the Sprendlingen and Eppelsheim areas havebeen considered for 200 years by vertebrate palaeontologists to bethe yardstick for the Neogene -- the time span between 23 millionand around 2.5 million years ago. The sites became famous aroundthe world for the first ever discovery of a fossil ape (1822) andthe first scientific descriptions of 19 large mammal species in theearly 19 th century. The allocation of a time period to the Deinotherium sands that werefound there -- which contain numerous other fossils along with theteeth and bones that provided the name of the proboscidean -- hasoften been the subject of scientific debate. "For this reason we examined a new sample with over 300mammalian fossils, leaves and fossilized wood. In the process wefound the teeth and bones of different deer species that lived inCentral Europe at the beginning of the Middle Miocene -- in otherwords, in the period between 14 and 16 million years ago, "explains Böhme.
"The results of the examinations offossil plant residues that were found above and below the mammaliansites reinforce our conclusions." The results have immediate consequences for the understanding ofthe development of the Main Basin and the Upper Rhine dig ingeological history. Because the findings were made in the oldestknown deposits of the Rhine, it must also be at least five millionyears older. The conclusions of the Senckenberg scientists have an impact uponthe entire chronological categorization of the flora and fauna ofthe Middle to Late Miocene -- this, despite the fact that until nowthe sites near Sprendlingen had been a timing determinant forpalaeontologists only.
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