Named By: Georges Cuvier - 1804.
Classification: Chordata, Mammalia, Perissodactyla, Palaeotheriidae.
Species: P. curtum, P. duvalii, P. magnum, P. medium, P. minus, P. muehlbergi, P. parvulum. *Note - Not all species are recognised by all sources, more precise details unavailable at the time of writing.
Size: About 120 centimetres long, 75 to 140 centimetres high at the shoulder. Measurements vary between species.
Known locations: Europe, including France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Time period: Lutetian through to Priabonian of the Eocene, possibly into the Rupelian of the Oligocene.
Fossil representation: Multiple individuals.
many individuals of Palaeotherium recovered from
Eocene era deposits in
Europe indicate that it was one of the most common mammals across
Europe (especially the Western portion) during this time. When
first described by Georges Cuvier, Palaeotherium
was thought to be
related to the ancient Tapirs, but today it is more widely considered
to be a closer relative to primitive horse. In this respect,
Palaeotherium may have shared a more recent common
ancestor with the
horses, and represents a line of mammals that diverged slightly away
from horses, but one that would ultimately not be as successful as
Palaeotherium was a quadrupedal mammal that was adapted to browsing low vegetation either near the ground or up to around a meter to one and half meters above it. It is unlikely that Palaeotherium could reach much farther past this mark due to skeletal limitations (depending upon the specific species). Palaeotherium was a creature that was well adapted to the forests that covered most of the Northern Hemisphere during the Eocene, but as the Eocene continued and passed in to the Oligocene, and the climate cooled and dried, these forests were slowly being replaced by grassy plains. The horses for their part adapted to these new conditions developing different teeth suitable for processing grass by grazing rather than browsing leaves like their ancestors. Older forms like Palaeotherium however, simply did not change to meet these new ecosystems, and in time went extinct as newer, better adapted herbivores replaced them.
- Mammals from the Bartonian (middle/late Eocene) of the Hampshire Basin, southern England, J. J. Hooker - 1986.