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The evolutionary link between the whale and the pig was found

Fossils found in Pakistan reveal a familial relationship between the whale and the pig; The findings reveal the path of evolution that the mammal took from the land to the sea 10 million years ago; More in the family: sheep and hippos

Researchers have discovered fossilized skeletons of whales that suggest an evolutionary closeness to hoofed mammals such as sheep, deer, and goats; The new discovery is defined as a new era in the study of the evolution of the whale

By: Tamara Traubman, Haaretz

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Bones designed for walking on land

Researchers in the US reported this week that as part of research carried out in Pakistan over the past year, extraordinary fossilized skeletons of primitive whales were discovered. The discovery settles a long-standing debate among evolutionists about the origin of whales.

The structure of the found skeletons shows that the giant marine creatures are evolutionarily close to a group of ungulate mammals, which includes hippopotamuses, sheep, pigs, goats, cows, deer and other mammals. That is, these and those evolved from the same ancestors.

The description of the findings is published in two parallel reports in this week's issues of the scientific journals "Nature" and "Science". One team, led by paleontologist Prof. Philip Gingrich of the University of Michigan, describes the remains of primitive whales with broad hands and feet. The researchers speculate that these creatures waded most of the time in the water, and were able to drag themselves to shore, like sea lions. The other team, led by Prof. Hans Twissen of Northwest Ohio University, describes skeletons of primitive wolf-sized whales that lived on land.

Bones designed for walking on land

Paleontologists and molecular biology experts have debated among themselves for years on the question of how whales evolved. Molecular biologists, who study the kinship of animals that exist today by studying their genetic makeup, claim that whales are evolutionarily closely related to hippopotamuses and other ungulate mammals.

Paleontologists, however, have previously argued that cetaceans are evolutionarily closer to an extinct group of ungulate carnivores, known as mesonychians. This conclusion was based on the study of the physical remains of ancient animals. The ankle bones found by Gingrich and his colleagues belong to a species they named Varhostus balochistensis.

The second team, led by Twissen, reported that they had discovered 49-million-year-old remains, containing ankle bones, skulls and other bones. Twissen's team discovered two new species - Ichthyolestes pinfoldi and Paxistus atuki - which have bones with a structure designed for walking on land.

Prof. Kenneth Rose from Johns Hopkins University defined the findings as "a new era in the study of the evolution of whales". He added that the new fossils force him to "abandon his previous position, and conclude that the hoofed mammals, and not the extinct Mazonicene carnivores, are indeed the closest relatives of the whales."

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