Archaeologists discover the remains of a primitive GIRAFFE in Spain

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  • The remains were discovered on the Iberian Peninsula near Madrid
  • Named Decennatherium rex, it was about half the size of a giraffe today
  • It had a much shorter neck and four horn-like skull protuberances
  • The finding could help shed light on the giraffe’s evolutionary history 

Shivali Best For Mailonline

While most giraffes now live in Africa, a primitive giraffe lived in modern day Spain nine million years ago. 

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of the creature, which had four horns and a short neck, on the Iberian Peninsula for the first time. 

The findings suggest that the ancestors of the world’s tallest mammal migrated out of Africa – just like humans. 

The remarkable discovery could also help shed light on how the giraffe got its long neck – a question that has mystified experts for decades.

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Archaeologists have discovered the remains of the creature, which had four horns, on the Iberian Peninsula for the first time (artist's impression pictured)

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of the creature, which had four horns, on the Iberian Peninsula for the first time (artist's impression pictured)

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of the creature, which had four horns, on the Iberian Peninsula for the first time (artist’s impression pictured)

THE PRIMITIVE GIRAFFE 

Decennatherium rex was up to nine feet tall and around the same length – about half the size of a modern giraffe.

The new species had a much shorter neck and four horn-like skull protuberances known as ossicones – two over the eyes and two larger ridged ones at the back.

Decennatherium was likely the earliest-evolving example of this lay-out, said the researchers.

Scientists say the newly described ‘giraffid’, which is the most complete fossil of its kind, may help trace their evolution. 

Named Decennatherium rex, it was up to nine feet tall and around the same length – about half the size of a modern giraffe.

Fossils of prehistoric giraffes have been found all over southern Europe, Africa and Asia – but this is the first from the Iberian Peninsula.

Dr Maria Rios, of the National Museum of Natural History in Madrid, said: ‘The recovery of Decennatherium in the Iberian Peninsula also points to the existence of migration between the northern and southern margins of the Mediterranean Sea that probably took place even before the beginning of the late Miocene.’

Decennatherium’s ‘unusually complete’ remains were unearthed at a fossil site known as Cerro de los Batallones situated on a hillside overlooking Madrid.

Skeletons of sabre toothed cats are among prehistoric creatures that have been found there in the past.

Dr Rios said: ‘The new four-horned extinct giraffid Decennatherium rex from Cerro de los Batallones sheds light on the evolution of the giraffid family and the extinct giant Sivatherium.’

Named Decennatherium rex, it was up to nine feet tall and around the same length - about half the size of a modern giraffe

Named Decennatherium rex, it was up to nine feet tall and around the same length - about half the size of a modern giraffe

Named Decennatherium rex, it was up to nine feet tall and around the same length – about half the size of a modern giraffe

HOW THE GIRAFFE GOT ITS LONG NECK 

The giraffe’s extremely long neck has allowed the animals to fill a niche on the African Savannah, by allowing them to reach vegetation high above the ground.

This allows them to reach the succulent leaves that other browsers are unable to access.

Male giraffes also use their long necks to battle each other in violent fights over females.

It is thought that the combination of access to a unique source of food and sexual selection caused them to evolve elongated necks.

Sivatherium was a prehistoric giraffe that died out 10,000 years ago. It is thought to have been the largest ruminant that walked the Earth.

The giant relative of modern giraffes lived over one million years ago in both Africa and Asia.

Unlike the giraffes of today, Sivatherium had a short neck, with short, stocky legs. It was almost 10ft tall and weighed up to a ton.

The giraffe’s extremely long neck has allowed the animals to fill a niche on the African Savannah, by allowing them to reach vegetation high above the ground.

This allows them to reach the succulent leaves that other browsers are unable to access.

Male giraffes also use their long necks to battle each other in violent fights over females.

It is thought that the combination of access to a unique source of food and sexual selection caused them to evolve elongated necks.

The giraffe's extremely long neck has allowed the animals to fill a niche on the African Savannah, by allowing them to reach vegetation high above the ground. This allows them to reach the succulent leaves that other browsers are unable to access

The giraffe's extremely long neck has allowed the animals to fill a niche on the African Savannah, by allowing them to reach vegetation high above the ground. This allows them to reach the succulent leaves that other browsers are unable to access

The giraffe’s extremely long neck has allowed the animals to fill a niche on the African Savannah, by allowing them to reach vegetation high above the ground. This allows them to reach the succulent leaves that other browsers are unable to access

The new species had a much shorter neck and four horn-like skull protuberances known as ossicones – two over the eyes and two larger ridged ones at the back.

Decennatherium was likely the earliest-evolving example of this lay-out, said the researchers.

The giraffids, a family of ruminants that includes modern day giraffes and okapis, are thought to have existed as far back as the early Miocene epoch.

But while fossils from over 30 extinct species have been described the lack of skulls has been a barrier to determining evolutionary relationships.

Decennatherium's 'unusually complete' remains were unearthed at a fossil site known as Cerro de los Batallones situated on a hillside overlooking Madrid

Decennatherium's 'unusually complete' remains were unearthed at a fossil site known as Cerro de los Batallones situated on a hillside overlooking Madrid

Decennatherium’s ‘unusually complete’ remains were unearthed at a fossil site known as Cerro de los Batallones situated on a hillside overlooking Madrid

The new fossilised skeleton is thought to date from the late Miocene and is unusually complete, providing the researchers with new anatomical and phylogenetic data.

Decennatherium may have been the most basal branch of a clade of now-extinct giraffids containing both sivatheres, the largest known giraffids, and samotheres, whose appearance was somewhere in between that of okapis and giraffes.

The inclusion of Decennatherium in the sivathere-samothere clade would extend its timespan back to the early late Miocene and its range as far as the Iberian peninsula, making the clade one of the most successful and long-lived of all the giraffids.

Dr Rios added: ‘The late Miocene was a time of extensive giraffid diversification and representatives of this family are found in numerous locations throughout Eurasia and Africa.’