A team of researchers recently reported the discovery of an array of fascinating fossils in a location referred to as Hammer’s Folly, situated in southern Germany. These fossils belong to at least 20 distinct species of small carnivorous mammals, offering a unique glimpse into the ecological diversity of the area around 11.5 million years ago.
Lead investigator, Nikolas Karagopoulos, highlighted the most distinguishing feature of these specimens: the surprisingly well-preserved skulls, specifically featuring an intriguing structure resembling that of a martens. He suggested that this discovery could potentially establish a new genus of large extant martens.
New Fossils in Hammer’s Folly
Professor Madeleine Böhme led the excavation project where they uncovered evidence of different fossorial mammals living in a semi-aquatic habitat. Some were found to be adept at living in trees. The proximity of these species indicates a balanced ecosystem that flourished at the time.
The animals discovered at the site ranged from various forms of martens, including red pandas, to elephants, indicating a diverse environment with multiple ecological niches supporting different types of life.
One of the smallest predators in the area was a weasel that weighed only up to two kilograms. The species’ unique dentition suggests that they primarily consumed meat. This weasel was named Circamustela hartmanni, a homage to the Hartmann family.
Wolverines, skunks, and even red pandas were also identified from the fossil record of Hammer’s Folly. However, Böhme noted that it was not conclusive evidence to accurately determine their exact concentration.
Böhme emphasized that the presence of 20 different species of small carnivores at the same location indicates a highly healthy and complex environment, supporting a diverse food web.
“As we continue to analyze body mass, feeding, and the manner in which they are adapted to assume different roles in the ecosystem, our findings corroborate an able competitor in the prey-predator relationship in the ecology of the time,” said Karagopoulos.
The recent discovery in March 2022 builds upon the 2019 revelation of Danuvius guggenmosi, the first-known ape capable of walking upright. The region has garnered significant attention for its fossil findings, attracting researchers eager to uncover more about our planet’s prehistoric inhabitants.
In September 2021, researchers identified the remains of the extinct genus Vishnuonyx, further contributing to the understanding of the evolutionary timeline. The ongoing excavation in Hammer’s Folly continues to provide essential pieces to the intricate puzzle of ancient life on Earth.
One of the recent discoveries was published in March 2022 on Taylor and Francis Online. The scientists involved are from the Senckenberg Research Institute and National History Museum in Frankfurt and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen. The fossil remains found in a prehistoric wetland site offer a glimpse into a fossilized world, yet the identity of this specimen remains unknown.