Researchers from East Tennessee State University have unearthed the prehistoric fossils of two different species of ancient peccaries, pig-like creatures that are native of the Americas.
The fossils, which have been identified as Mylohyus elmorei and Prosthennops serus, were retrieved from the Gray Fossil Site, once a large pond surrounded by forest. The site has preserved the ancient ecosystem dating back to around 5 million years.
The discovery was published in the journal PeerJ.
Ancient Peccary Bones In Tennessee
Scientists have been pulling peccary bones from the site for years, but these recently-unearthed prehistoric fossils are special. Although they have been found across North America, neither the Mylohyus elmorei nor the Prosthennops serus has been dug up in the Appalachian region.
The Mylohyus elmorei, in particular, has only been found in one region in central Florida in the past.
According to researchers, the fossils recently unearthed in East Tennessee have well-preserved skulls. Both species managed to have their complete lower jaws intact, including their teeth.
Remarkable Discovery At The Gray Fossil Site
"Details of the peccaries' teeth suggest they spent their lives browsing on the leaves and fruits of succulent plants, so they would have been right at home in the Gray Fossil Site ecosystem, which we know from plant fossils was rich with tasty vegetation," explained Chris Widga, head curator at the East Tennessee State university's Museum of Natural History.
While they look like pigs, neither of the extinct species were pigs. True pigs, according to the researchers, are native of Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Peccaries, meanwhile, belong to the family of Tayassuidae and roamed the Americas. In some places, they are referred to as javelin or javelinas. Although different, peccaries were omnivorous mammals like pigs.
The researchers also added that the ancient peccaries they have unearthed probably grew around the size of a German shepherd. It means that the now-extinct creatures are slightly bigger than their living, modern day counterparts.
The new discovery is proof that millions of years ago, East Tennessee was to a diverse ecosystem, including animals such as rhinos, alligators, mastodons, tapirs, and, now, peccaries.