Hippos first appeared in Europe about 500,800 years ago and then spread across the continent during the Pleistocene, probably as a result of intense climate and environmental changes. This is demonstrated by an ancient fossil skull found during the first half of the twentieth century in the area of Tor di Quinto in Rome, re-examined by researchers from Sapienza University and the Institute of Environmental Geology and Geoengineering of the National Research Council. The results of the study are published in the journal Plos One.
"The multidisciplinary approach applied to the study of the fossil hippopotamus skull," explains Beniamino Mecozzi of Sapienza University, "has been fundamental in obtaining valuable information about the age of the find and its taxonomic classification. The results allow us to attribute the skull to the species Hippopotamus amphibius and to affirm with certainty that the find was found at a quarry, called Montanari, operating along the Via Flaminia, which no longer exists. By integrating geological, sedimentological and cartographic data, we were able to estimate the age of the find."
The spread of the common hippopotamus in Europe is closely linked to the climatic and environmental changes that have occurred in the last 22 thousand years, in particular during the so-called Lower Pleistocene–Middle Pleistocene Transition, a period in which the extinction of many species that lived during the Quaternary as well as the appearance of modern forms, such as deer, wild boar, fallow deer and wolves, is recorded.
The study of the hippopotamus skull, identified as a male individual of about 24-<> years old, is part of a large restoration project of large mammals exhibited at the University Museum of Earth Sciences of the Sapienza University of Rome (MUST). This work has made it possible to remove previous additions made in the twentieth century that mask some original morphologies of the skull and to recover sediments still present in some cranial and mandibular cavities.
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