For the past 15 years, researchers have been exploring mines in Gujarat, a state on the west coast of India, where they discovered the remains of a mammal known as Cambaytherium, which is apparently an extinct relative of the perrisodactyls. Our modern-day horses, rhinos and tapirs are all from the Perissodactyla family, which is also described more simply as hoofed animals or “ungulates,” meaning they bear the majority of their weight on one of the five toes.

The Cambaytherium, which was first described as such in 2005, roamed the Indian subcontinent nearly 55 million years ago. The scientists who discovered it hail from Johns Hopkins University, and said that the animal likely evolved during the period when India was still an island. According to the study, the results confirm a 30-year old theory that the origins of the horse can be traced to India during its northward drift from Madagascar.

“In 1990, Krause & Maas proposed that these orders might have evolved in India, during its northward drift from Madagascar, dispersing across the northern continents when India collided with Asia,” said Ken Rose, emeritus professor at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of the study.

Rose also explained that the latest finding “is the culmination of 15 years of work by a global team of researchers and involved piecing together the complete skeletal anatomy of Cambaytherium from over 350 fossils unearthed throughout India.”

Interestingly, even though there have been an enormous amount of perissodactyls in the Northern Hemisphere ‒ consider all the horses throughout history from continent to continent, and the rhinos of Africa and Asia prior to their being poached to near extinction ‒ this discovery of the Cambaytherium suggests that “the group likely evolved in isolation in or near India during the Paleocene (66-56 million years ago), before dispersing to other continents when the land connection with Asia formed.”