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Cyprus home to Europe's last ancient dwarf hippopotami
2007-10-18 08:33:49

Nicosia, Oct 15, - Ayia Napa's Municipal Council will proceed with the construction of a shelter to house the new findings that were unearthed in the region which show dwarf hippopotami, scientifically called ''Phanurios minor,'' which, as a Greek Paleontologist points out, are the last to be discovered in Europe and the Mediterranean.

Ayia Napa Mayor Antonis Tsokkos stated that the Municipal Council will be constructing a shelter on site as well as a path which will allow residents and tourists to visit the site and get a close look at these findings.

These hippos are believed to have arrived in Cyprus some 250,000 years ago. They came from the region of Alexandretta, which at that time was the closest land to the island of Cyprus.

The new findings were discovered at a site in Ayia Napa in the Famagusta district, of southeastern Cyprus, during an excavation carried out by a twelve-member team of the University of Athens Historic Geology and Paleontology Faculty, under the supervision of Deputy Professor George Theodorou and Geologist Ioannis Panagides, Senior official of the Cyprus Geological Survey Department.

This is not the first time that fossils of prehistoric dwarf hippopotami were discovered in Cyprus, since both Dr. Theodorou and Dr. Panagides say that there are over 40 sites on the island which present fossils of this species. Cyprus used to be home to dwarf elephants (elephant Cypriotes) as well as ancient bats and rats.

British Paleontologist, Dorothea Bate, was the first to discover the Phanurios minor and the Elephant Cypriotes during an expedition to the island in 1902-1904 when she found large numbers of fossils, from which she was able to assemble a complete skeleton of a dwarf hippo. This skeleton was on show in London's Natural History Museum until 1970.

What is important from the fossils discovered in the October excavation is that the dwarf hippos are ''the last to be discovered in Europe,'' according to Dr. Theodorou.

Dwarf hippos were also discovered in Crete, Sardinia, Telos, Corsica and Sicily. ''The hippos of Cyprus are the last European hippos,'' the Greek paleontologist said.

These hippos lived in an era very close to the time when humans came to Cyprus. ''Our effort is to connect this material with the climate change, the presence of humanity with the changes on the environment in that era,'' he added.

“This is the importance of this discovery, the connection between these beasts and the climate change on earth. ''This study shows the prehistoric climate development,” Dr. Panagides said, noting that 18,000 years ago we had the coldest era and the sea was lower by 100m, thus making Cyprus' area 12,000 square miles instead of the 9,000 it is today. The dwarf hippos had to adapt to these circumstances, becoming smaller in size to cope with Cyprus' mountainous terrain - measuring 1.5m in length and 0.75m in height.

Their snout was also lower compared to a modern-day hippo, while they also present differences in their jaw, the position of their eyes and their feet, differences which show that they were mostly able to walk rather than swim.

According to Dr. Panagides, these differences could assist Paleontologists to assess the climate change through the years.'' As an archaeologist gathers clues to assess history, so we gather clues from geology and paleontology to record the earth's natural history,'' he said, giving an example that 700,000 years ago a river was situated in the Kakkaristra area of Latsia, a commercial centre south of Cyprus' capital, Nicosia.

Dr. Theodorou says that Cyprus is rich in the field of paleontology with forty sights in which dwarf hippos and elephants were discovered, noting that both the elephants and the hippos present the phenomenon of nanism, that is to adapt to the conditions of the land they migrated to.

''This phenomenon is observed only in four regions in the world, namely the Mediterranean, Indonesia, Japan and California USA,'' he said, adding that Cyprus with its forty sights, along with Crete and Sicily, are the richest areas concerning this phenomenon.

Furthermore, the excavations in Ayia Napa unearthed an endemic species, scientifically termed ''Genetta Plesictoides,'' an animal resembling to a cat but with a smaller jaw.

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