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Meet S. olteniensis, a new pangolin species that lived two million years ago

The identification is significant as it challenges previous research that suggested that pangolins moved out of Europe 10 million years ago.

Smutsia olteniensisThe newly described specimen for the fossil pangolin species Smutsia olteniensis. (Claire Terhune via University of Arkansas)

The Oltet river valley in Romania, a treasure trove of fossil deposits, has been studied since the 1960s. And now, the region has given a new species to science.

A fossilised right humerus or arm bone housed at an inventory in Bucharest was studied using new scanning techniques and the results revealed that it was a new species of the Smutsia genus.

“Smutsia has previously been thought to be an African genus, with the oldest specimen from South Africa at 5 million years ago and living species found across Africa,” said lead author Dr. Claire Terhune in a release. “This specimen now demonstrates that Smutsia previously had a far larger biogeographic range.”


It was named Smutsia olteniensis after the Oltet river valley where the specimen was found. The species lived during the Pleistocene epoch about 1.9 and 2.2 million years ago.

“It’s not a fancy fossil. It’s just a single bone, but it is a new species of a kind of a weird animal,” Dr. Terhune said. “This one happens to be the youngest pangolin ever discovered from Europe and the only pangolin fossil from Pleistocene Europe.”

The team adds that this identification is significant as it challenges previous research that suggested that pangolins moved out of Europe during the middle Miocene or 10 million years ago. The previous papers had hypothesised that pangolins moved to tropical and sub-tropical environments due to global cooling trends.

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The findings were published last month in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

First published on: 18-01-2022 at 17:00 IST
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