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Discovering a forgotten continent in Southeast Europe

Discovering a forgotten continent in Southeast Europe

Learn about the Balkans: a forgotten continent that, according to an international team of researchers, radically changed the European animal kingdom millions of years ago.

An international team of researchers believes that they have discovered a continent unknown to us until recently. They called it “Balkantolia”. It is said that the continent – whose remnants now make up the Balkans and Anatolia – separated Europe from Asia for millions of years and then brought the two continents into contact with each other – with dire consequences for the mammals living in Europe. It can be read in the magazine Earth Science Reviews† Research not only hints at the existence of a long-forgotten continent, but also solves an ancient mystery: the Grand Sect Paradox.

Great sect
It was known for a longer time that the European animal kingdom changed radically at the end of the Eocene (an epoch covering the period between 55 and 34 million years ago). Researchers also refer to the event as the Grand Class.

Before this major category, water separated Europe and Asia. And each of the two continents had their own animals. In Europe, these single-toed ungulates were dominated by Palaeotheriidae (distant relatives of modern horses) and several even-toed ungulate families. Meanwhile, Asia was home to a much more diverse fauna, including the families of mammals that can be found in both Asia and Europe to this day. That all changed about 34 million years ago: Asian species (including rhinos, hamsters and hedgehogs) suddenly colonized Europe. Many of the original European species – including some of those distant relatives of horses – have been lost, while countless Asian species have successfully established themselves in Europe. European fauna has changed radically and forever.

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To date, the Grand Coupe remains an unmistakable story. However, it became puzzling when scientists in the Balkans excavated the fossil remains of Asian animals that roamed here long before the great kopur. The discoveries indicated an early colonization of Europe, while the penetrating findings of this did not appear in the fossil record until the end of the Eocene. How can this contradiction be explained? An international team of researchers now thinks they’ve discovered it. In their review they present a forgotten continent: the Balkans, which undermines the complete contradiction.

Above: Balkantolia about 40 million years ago. Below: Balkantolia remains as they appear today. Photo: © Alexis Licht & Grégoire Métai.

According to the researchers, the Balkans – which covers the Balkans and today’s Turkey – could have been an archipelago about 50 million years ago. The archipelago was located between Europe and Asia and had its own fauna. About forty million years ago, for reasons that are still unknown, the isolated site in the Balkans was over, where Asian mammals could enter the continent. colonize it At that time, animals could not cross into Europe. The Balkans were still separated from Europe by water. However, that changed about six million years later, possibly due to the formation of the Antarctic ice sheet. The sea level fell and a land bridge was established between the Balkans and Europe, after which the Great Solstice occurred.

The researchers build this tentative conclusion on a review of ancient discoveries. And those discoveries show, according to scientists, that the fauna of the Balkans and Anatolia were very different from those of Europe and Asia until 40 million years ago. It alludes to a secluded location, where the Balkans thus constitute a continent in their own right. In addition, the research team revealed in their review the discovery of fossil remains of neo-mammals in Turkey that are between 38 and 35 million years old and apparently originated from Asia. Taken together, the discoveries point to an early colonization of Atollia Balkans by Asian mammals, which then had to wait millions of years before they could reach Europe.

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It is certainly an interesting interpretation of fossil remains discovered recently and previously in the Balkans and Turkey. Follow-up research – as more fossil remains from the Eocene have been found and examined – should show whether this can continue. It is also important to look beyond fossil finds alone. Thus, the interpretation can also be confirmed or refuted by follow-up studies that also investigate the driving forces behind geographical changes that would have made the Balkan Atulia accessible to Asian fauna and which, at a later stage, would have also enabled the animals to reach Europe.