Researchers discovered hundreds of animal fossils during an excavation at the Baza-1 site in September. The fossils were reportedly from over four million years ago and included what experts believed were from the last crocodile in Europe.
Fossils of the Last Crocodile in Europe Discovered
At the “Baza-1 site” in the southern Spanish province of Granada, a team of paleontologists discovered more than 500 fossils of both large and small vertebrates. According to the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), the bones are approximately 4.5 million years old and in excellent condition.
Extinct elephant-like creatures known as mastodons, rhinoceroses, two species of horses, various-sized bovids, huge and small deer, pigs, large carnivores, and turtles are among the bones found. Along with numerous small mammal remains, such as those of rats, rabbits, and shrews, countless amphibian, reptile, and fish remnants, sifting through sediments removed from the site also turned up a significant amount of wood and plant remains.
However, the team’s discovery of a crocodile tooth-the first to be discovered at Baza-1-may have been the most exciting relic they came across. The teeth, according to the researchers, come from a crocodile species that originated in Africa, and it is the only one of its kind found in the European fossil record from this time period. This indicates that it was the final species of crocodile to be discovered on the Continent.
According to Bienvenido Martínez Navarro, the IPHES’s co-director of the excavation, this is a species of crocodile with African ancestry that entered the Iberian Peninsula through a sea arm just before the Mediterranean dried up during the Messinian salinity crisis or just over 6 million years ago and probably the last crocodile to exist in Europe.
Geologically speaking, the Messinian crisis took place between 6 and 5.3 million years ago. Large portions of the Mediterranean Sea dried up and lost contact with the Atlantic during the catastrophe, leaving behind highly salinized ruins that were uninhabitable to life.
The Zanclean flood, which filled the Mediterranean basin once again and restored the sea’s connection to the Atlantic, is thought to have marked the end of the crisis.
The scientists are hopeful that by analyzing the fossils found at Baza-1, they will be able to reconstruct the prehistoric surroundings of this fossil site. Evidence found at the site to date suggests that it was dominated by a tropical or subtropical climate, which is marked by hot temperatures and copious amounts of rain, and an ecosystem made up of huge trees and some open spaces where herbivores like three-toed horses grazed.
Why There Are No Crocodiles in Europe?
There are no natural crocodiles in Europe because the planet’s cooling forced reptiles to migrate to warmer regions. But according to the fossil record, crocodilians lived in Europe for a very long time, let’s say from the time of their origin in the Mesozoic to the end of the Miocene or the very beginning of the Pliocene, or up to roughly 5 million years ago. Numerous fossils, many of which are single teeth, attest to the extensive evolutionary history of the European crocodilians.
Since crocodilians constantly replace their teeth during their entire lifetimes, each one leaves behind a huge amount, around hundreds of mineralized structures that could become fossilized. This explains why single crocodilian teeth are discovered in the fossil record very frequently.
However, they are rarely helpful in locating their owners, and as a result, they offer very little information. Most of the time, they merely inform us that an unnamed crocodilian visited a specific location at a specific time. Although it has value in and of itself, it merely serves as a brief introduction to more comprehensive and organized data. Meanwhile, bones are nevertheless far more illuminating than isolated teeth, and those that make up the lower jaw and skull can reveal a lot about their former owner. A complete skull can be very valuable.