Horse Ancestor Said to Have Evolved in India

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Abstract

Despite the ubiquitous presence of the “horse series” in textbooks, the origin of horses is still debated among evolutionists. Where, how, and in what order non-ruminating hoofed mammals (aka perissodactyla—like the horse, tapir and rhinoceros) evolved “is one of the great conundrums of mammalian evolution,” write the authors of a recent study reporting they found a missing link in the evolutionary story. Accordingly, the Los Angeles Times, like other news services, in November reported “Rhino horse, a ‘missing link,’ could solve 55-million-year-old mystery.” Analogous to the “sudden” appearance of diverse animals in the Cambrian explosion, perissodactyls and some other mammalian groups are mysteries, the evolutionary authors write, because they “appeared abruptly at the beginning of the Eocene across the Holarctic continents [North America, northern Eurasia, and North Africa], with little indication of their source.” The new Indian fossil, Cambaytherium, has traits similar to those in several other hoofed mammals. From the study, it is clear that the authors’ determination to view Cambaytherium as a transitional form shedding light on the horse series springs from their imaginative evolutionary worldview. Like other extinct mammals that “suddenly” appear in the fossil record, Cambaytherium is no mystery but a descendant of the kind of animals God—the Common Designer of all—created about 6,000 years ago, without evolution.

Introduction

Did the ancestor of rhinos, tapirs and horses evolve in India before its historic collision with Eurasia? Where, how, and in what order non-ruminating hoofed mammals like these evolved is considered a great evolutionary mystery. Purporting to have found a piece pointing to the solution, the discoverers of an extinct Indian mammal recently reported in Nature Communications (20 November 2014) that their fossil shared a common ancestor with horses and other odd-toed hoofed animals. Although Discovery.com reported lead author Kenneth Rose “noted the story still has a few loose ends,”1 Rose and his colleagues believe a primordial mammalian ancestor of horses, rhinos, tapirs, and the newly discovered Cambaytherium thewissi evolved on the Indian subcontinent and made its way to Eurasia to continue evolving into different kinds of animals.

cambaytheriumThis is an artist’s representation of Cambaytherium thewissi, a small extinct mammal found in India. With characteristics typical of several sorts of hoofed animals, its discoverers believe it points to an undiscovered common Indian ancestor shared with horses, rhinos, and tapirs. Image: Elaine Kasmer at Los Angeles Times

horse-evolutionThis is one version of the famous “horse series,” which is commonly used by evolutionists to illustrate evolutionary principles. Some versions of the horse series include animals that have no connection to horses, and others illustrate the anatomical variety among horses. While some of the horse varieties are found in successive strata in some places, such as the Green River Formation and the John Day Beds in the western United States, some variations in the supposed evolutionary lineage also occur in the same rock layers. Though the horse series is interpreted as an evolutionary series, the only observable reality is that these horses were buried in various layers of sediment, demonstrating neither evolutionary transitions nor millions of years. The vast ages assigned to them are interpretations based on a number of unverifiable worldview-based evolutionary assumptions. From a biblical worldview, these fossils are understood as variations in the horse kind,  most of which were likely catastrophically buried within days or weeks of each other during post-Flood catastrophes. The variety of horses found in the fossil record, particularly those found in the same strata, is consistent not with an evolutionary saga stretched over millions of years but with the biblical creation model of history revealed in the Bible. Image: Wikimedia commons

Mind the Gap!

“Around Cambaytherium’s time, we think India was an island, but it also had primates and a rodent similar to those living in Europe at the time,” Rose explains. “One possible explanation is that India passed close by the Arabian Peninsula or the Horn of Africa, and there was a land bridge that allowed the animals to migrate. But Cambaytherium is unique and suggests that India was indeed isolated for a while.”

Cambaytherium fails to fit neatly into known categories of animals. It sports some features deemed too primitive for its place in the fossil record unless, evolutionists believe, it inherited those “primitive” traits from an as-yet-undiscovered ancestor shared with other hoofed animals. Many evolutionists believe that the Indian subcontinent broke off of Madagascar 80–90 million years ago. Rose and colleagues think Cambaytherium diverged to pursue its own unique evolutionary course while India was cut off. If this notion catches on, then some evolutionists may view it as support for their own hotly debated ideas about the direction India moved and the timing of its Himalaya-creating collision with modern Asia.2

Putting the Pieces Together

Cambaytherium was reconstructed from fossils found in the lower Eocene Cambay Shale Formation in western India. That rock formation is conventionally dated at about 54.5 million years. Reconstruction of the fossil was challenging, as over 200 fragments (including two skulls, over 120 teeth and jaw fragments, and almost 100 other bones) had to be matched up.3 Ultimately, Rose’s group came up with a peccary-like animal thought to weigh around 45 to 75 pounds.

Having a mixture of traits found in a variety of hoofed animals, Cambaytherium was assigned a place as a sister to the group that includes the horse, rhinoceros, and tapir. The researchers presume it diverged from their undiscovered shared evolutionary ancestor and developed its unique features in Indian isolation. Features common to all the perissodactyls, including extinct ones found in slightly deeper rock layers elsewhere, are considered “primitive.”4 But Cambaytherium is supposedly slightly younger than the oldest members of the horse series (based on its relative position in the worldwide fossil record), so it is not being considered the common ancestor of all these animals. Rather it is seen as evidence that the common ancestor it supposedly shared with horses lived in India and subsequently evolved into many different kinds of animals, including, of course, horses.

Transitional?

“It’s a transitional form; it’s a missing link, if you like,” Rose says. “I don’t like that term, because all fossils really are missing links. Anything new is a missing link in your understanding.” He adds, “We think what we have is a remnant of the ancestral group that would’ve given rise to horses and tapirs and rhinos. And it’s on India, and therefore the possibility that perissodactyls actually diversified—evolved—on India has gone way up.”

An evolutionary missing link or transitional form does not just refer to a gap in understanding but to a gap in the fossil record representing a series of unpreserved organisms chronicling the stepwise evolution of one kind of organism into a new more complex kind.  We do observe variations within created kinds—such as varying beak types in Darwin’s finches—but no observable mechanism by which one kind of animal can evolve into a completely different kind of animal. Thus the “missing links” between increasingly complex kinds of organisms are missing because they never existed, representing the impassable boundaries between different created kinds.5

These “missing links in our understanding” result from lack of observational evidence that such molecules-to-man evolution can occur and the evolutionists’ need to find some way to explain life’s complexity. They typically do this by connecting the dots between organisms possessing various common designs. However, common design features shared by different kinds of animals are exactly what we would expect to find in a world of animals created by a common designer, the Creator God described in the Bible.

Toes and Teeth

Reduction in the number of toes figures prominently in the conventional evolutionary “horse series.” Cambaytherium, like “phenacodontid” fossils4 found in North America and Europe, had five toe bones. Rose isn’t sure whether these were actual toes or just an internal part of Cambaytherium’s foot anatomy. The various animals in the “horse series” include three- and one-toed animals, as well as the hyrax-like animal placed at the base with four toes in the front and three in the rear. Despite having five toe bones, Cambaytherium statistically racks up more similarities with an extinct tapir and with two animals that were formerly included among the Hyracotherium (aka Eohippus) at the bottom of the horse series6 than with any other fossil.

Cambaytherium’s teeth identify it as a perissodactyl with unusually large molars that would have equipped it to grind its food well.3 Also, the bones of its wrists and ankles have the same shapes and anatomical relationships as seen in modern hoofed animals. Its blunted hoof-like toes, symmetrical well-balanced feet, and several features of its leg bones and joints suggest it was a good runner, though perhaps not as good a runner as some given that it was so robust.7 Again, none of these features are unique. Scientists know that these features contribute to good running ability because they are found in living animals that run well.

Cambaytherium does not perfectly match any living animal and has characteristics of several odd-toed hoofed animals. This does not mean it was transitioning or evolving but only that it is an extinct member of its group. As usual, it is the combination of traits that evolutionists like to think of as “primitive”—because they are found in some animals from deeper strata—with those they consider advanced and modern that make this animal appear to be a missing link or transitional form. And in this case—because Cambaytherium is only 54 million years “young”—it can’t “link” anything and must therefore be a signpost pointing to yet another, undiscovered, transitional form in the ancestry it supposedly shares with horses.

The Horse Series

The horse series has long been used to showcase evolution. The horse series represents how horses supposedly evolved from a small hyrax-like ancestor into progressively larger animals with fewer toes and teeth more suitable for grazing on gritty grass in a changing world. The number of toes on animals in the sequence decreased, presumably because their environment became less marshy and gave them firmer ground on which to plant their evolving hooves. While the scheme suggests more “primitive” varieties of horses are found in the deepest rock layers, reality does not cooperate. Many of the animals (minus Hyracotherium) are thought by some creation scientists to be examples of variations that developed in the horse kind, possibly as adaptations to the vegetation available to eat, in the post-Flood world.8

Animals occupying the base of the horse series have been named Hyracotherium and also Eohippus, “dawn horse.” At least ten different animals—many represented only by their teeth and a few isolated bones—have been included among the Hyracotherium at the base of the horse series over the years. The small animal originally placed at the base resembles a rock badger, but its discoverer did not envision it there. Sir Richard Owen, who also gave us the word dinosaur, named the original Hyracotherium for its resemblance to the rock badger, or hyrax. Owen discovered it in 1841, and he did not suggest it looked like a horse’s ancestor. That imaginative interpretation was imposed on the fossil more than three decades later when evolutionists like Thomas Huxley and O. C. Marsh decided to connect the evolutionary dots as they searched for a horse ancestor.

Many animals depicted on horse series charts are varieties of horses illustrating biodiversity among horses. Horses still vary greatly in size and skeletal details. Differences in the number of vertebrae, ribs, and other skeletal variations are also not segregated into a convenient sequence throughout  the fossil record, sometimes occurring in the same layers and everywhere indicating simply variations within the horse kind. For instance, a three-toed horse (Pliohippus) and a one-toed horse were found buried together in Nebraska in rock formed from a single volcanic eruption, supposedly 11 million years ago,9 demonstrating they also coexisted in the past.10 Though uncommon, horses with multiple toes still exist today.

Horse variations in the fossil record illustrate that biodiversity among horses has long been the norm, but does not demonstrate hyrax-to-horse evolution. Anatomical variations within the horse kind reveal the great adaptability available in the horse genome that has enabled horses to cope with a wide range of environments. Furthermore, modern horses have in their legs two important splint bones that protect their blood vessels and tendons and, when a rare multi-toed horse is born, the extra toes are found to be splint bone extensions.11 But the existence of three-toed horses in the same strata as the more familiar hoofed ones demonstrates that they lived at the same time and were buried at about the same time. Based on their position in the fossil record, it is reasonable to assume they are descendants of the horse kind that disembarked from the Ark and migrated to North America after the Flood. In any case, their coexistence in the same rock layers gives the lie to the idea that one evolved from the other.

The Horse Bush

Even popular evolutionary writers like Brian Switek admit the fossil record does not support a neat line of “increasing ‘horsiness’”12 with linear evolution of one kind of proto-horse into another:

The paradox of the study of fossil horses is that paleontologists have long recognized that their evolution is best represented by a branching bush in which there were times of radiation which were subsequently cut back by extinction. The straight-line imagery is favored because it documents the graded steps of evolutionary change, but any time we create a strictly linear diagram we are by necessity leaving out the wider evolutionary context into which those animals fit. There was no internal trend forcing the dawn horses and their descendants upwards towards Equus, and a recently-discovered fossil skeleton [Arenahippus] underscores the point that early horses were quite distinct from their extant cousins.12

Evolutionist Switek, early in his career, concluded a treatise on the evolution of horses with these mocking words:

Evolution is truly an amazing phenomenon; who would have ever conceived of a small, four-toed animal giving rise to Black Beauty? Our overall conception of “more” being better may even make such a move from four toes to one seem counterintuitive, yet the evidence (from fossils to that of development) is clear in its implications. Horses did not spring up out of the ground from the dust, nor were they “spoken into being” by an omnipotent power that decided that Adam should have a faithful steed. Every bone in their body cries out as to their past, and we are all the more enriched to understand that just like the horse, Homo sapiens is a still-changing product of a long and rich evolutionary history, too.13

Sadly, writers like Switek do not recognize that the amazing biodiversity in horses, past and present, is evidence of the marvelous engineering of a wise Creator who made so much information available in kinds of animals He created. That information has been shuffled, isolated, and selected by both natural and artificial selection (and other mechanisms),  but that does not demonstrate anything about molecules-to-man evolution. In fact, much of the horse series—more of a “bush” than a “tree”—is actually a better illustration for variation within a created kind consistent with biblical history than for any sort of evolutionary sequence.

The horse series tend to appear very standardized, but many versions of it exist. Some of the horse series is based on fragmentary fossils of questionable identity supplemented with anatomical details inferred from actual horses, and some on more complete specimens. It is not my purpose here to explore which are horses and which are other kinds of animals more like tapirs. Some of the animals in the horse series were not horses, and many others were just varieties of horses. None, however, were steps in a molecules-to-man sort of evolutionary sequence. The fact that many of them appear in the fossil record in the same strata indicates that variety in the horse kind existed at the time they were catastrophically buried by post-Flood catastrophes.14

Living horses display remarkable variety in their anatomy and even their genes. Some members of the Equidae (modern horse) family have different numbers of chromosomes, yet many such mismatched members of the horse kind can hybridize, confirming they are varieties of the same created kind. They can also be selectively bred to produce an amazing assortment of breeds that accentuate desirable traits. And DNA from an ancient horse’s foot preserved in the permafrost of the Canadian Yukon, when compared with various modern and Upper Pleistocene equine genomes, suggests that horses—in their remarkable variety—have been horses for a very long time.

Coexisting anatomical diversity within the horse kind, both in fossil layers and the modern world, illustrates adaptability available within the horse genome, not the evolutionary acquisition of new genetic information. The biodiversity developed among horses since God originally created them about 6,000 years ago, as well as the biodiversity that has developed since the global Flood, is consistent with the vast amount of information God made available in the original horse genome.

Nothing about the discovery of Cambaytherium indicates that it or any of its ancestors evolved in India or anywhere else. Neither does the fossil demonstrate that it is the ancestor of horses and rhinos and tapirs (oh, my!). Cambaytherium is simply an extinct five-toed hoofed mammal that was created, like others of its kind, with some anatomical features found in other animals and some unique ones by God, the Common Designer of all.

Like other animals buried during the global Flood, a pair representing Cambaytherium’s created kind was aboard the Ark about 4,350 years ago, and became part of God’s plan to repopulate the earth after the Flood. The catastrophic burial of those animals is a testament to the fact that the world once experienced a global Flood of judgment. Many people err in denying this past Flood judgment as well as the judgment to come. Someday many will face another sort of judgment at the hands of a holy and righteous God who now graciously and patiently waits for people to repent and trust Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation.

For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:5–8)

Further reading

  • Truth from Telegraph, the World’s Newest Zonkey
  • Zonkeys, Ligers, and Wolphins, Oh My!
  • Mammalian Ark Kinds
  • What’s Happened to the Horse?
  • A Horse Is a Horse, of Course, of Course . . .
  • Horse Leg Bones—A Hole in the Design Argument
  • Horse Evolution Mix-up
  • From Bacteria to Giraffes: Adapting Reality to Fantasy
  • Wyoming Cave Traps Animals from the Ice Age until the Space Age
  • How the Zebra Got its Stripes
  • Answers in Depth

    2015 Volume 10

    Footnotes

    1. http://news.discovery.com/animals/ancient-rhino-horse-relative-roamed-island-of-india-141121.htm
    2. What can the biblical Flood geology model tell us about the origin of the tall Himalaya mountain range? And why do we find marine fossils high in Nepal’s Himalayas? Dr. Andrew Snelling explains this in “High & Dry Sea Creatures”:
      Marine fossils are also found high in the Himalayas, the world’s tallest mountain range, reaching up to 29,029 feet (8,848 m) above sea level. For example, fossil ammonites  (coiled marine cephalopods) are found in limestone beds in the Himalayas of Nepal. All geologists agree that ocean waters must have buried these marine fossils in these limestone beds. So how did these marine limestone beds get high up in the Himalayas?
      We must remember that the rock layers in the Himalayas and other mountain ranges around the globe were deposited during the Flood, well before these mountains were formed. In fact, many of these mountain ranges were pushed up by earth movements to their present high elevations at the end of the Flood. This is recorded in Psalm 104:8, where the Flood waters are described as eroding and retreating down valleys as the mountains rose at the end of the Flood.
    3. K. Rose et al., “Early Eocene fossils suggest that the mammalian order Perissodactyla originated in India,” Nature Communications (20 November 2014) doi:10.1038/ncomms6570.
    4. The more “primitive” extinct perissodactyls are called phenacodontids, which appear, like the more familiar modern perissodactyls, to have been herbivorous and good runners. They generally had five finger- or toe-bones and a long tail. They are found as deep as the middle Paleocene rock of North America as well as in lower and middle Eocene rock in Europe. Because they appear deeper in the fossil record than other perissodactyls, evolutionists generally believe phenacodontids are a common ancestor of the perissodactyls, though their own origin remains a mystery. However, their Paleocene position at most only means that many of them (those in North America) may have been buried a little earlier than some others, not that they evolved millions of years earlier.
    5. Only an eyewitness can offer a reliable account of events long past and not repeatable. God has provided His account of Creation and of the global Flood in the Scriptures. The biblical fact that organisms reproduce after their kinds (rather than evolving into new kinds) does not contradict scientific observations, but only the evolutionary just-so-stories about their origin. Furthermore, “gaps” in the fossil record are believed by evolutionists to be the missing transitional forms between kinds of organisms—fossils of evolving creatures not preserved or not yet found, a rather convenient and plastic convention. In reality, however, the gaps often represent impassable boundaries between distinct kinds of creatures. The evolutionary transitional forms supposed by evolutionists to belong in the gaps never existed. These gaps are consistent with the biblical record of Creation in that God created various kinds of creatures to reproduce after their kinds, not to evolve from one kind into another. Their order in the fossil record is due to how they were buried during the global Flood recorded in Genesis or in post-Flood catastrophes. Thus information from God’s Word reveals the true nature of gaps in the fossil record.
    6. The authors report, “Most anatomical features of Cambaytherium closely resemble those of basal perissodactyls such as Homogalax, Arenahippus and Protorohippus (the latter two genera formerly included in Hyracotherium). . . . Many features, however, are more plesiomorphic, often recalling the traits of primitive ungulates like phenacodontids.” from K. Rose et al., “Early Eocene fossils suggest that the mammalian order Perissodactyla originated in India,” Nature Communications (20 November 2014), doi:10.1038/ncomms6570.
    7. This conclusion is expressed by the authors of the study in Nature Communications. K. Rose et al., “Early Eocene fossils suggest that the mammalian order Perissodactyla originated in India,” Nature Communications (20 November 2014), doi:10.1038/ncomms6570.
    8. For instance, David Cavanaugh et al. discuss this in “Fossil Equidae: A Monobaraminic, Stratomorphic Series,” Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Creation Science Fellowship, 2003), 143–149.
    9. http://ashfall.unl.edu/ashfallgeology.html
    10. Horse find defies evolution, Creation 5, no. 3 (1983): 15.
    11. http://creation.com/what-about-horse-toe-evolution
    12. http://www.wired.com/2010/10/running-with-arenahippus/
    13. http://laelaps.wordpress.com/2007/09/13/the-branching-bush-of-horse-evolution/
    14. Cambaytherium was found in lower Eocene rock. This rock may have been deposited during the latter part of the global Flood, possibly as water receded, or soon after in post-Flood catastrophes when trapped caches of water were released. Bible-believing Flood geologists are currently exploring this question by comparing the observable properties of the rock strata around the world. In any case, Bible-believing geologists agree that the earth’s land masses are not the same today as they were in the past. Flood geology models show how the great global Flood described in the Bible about 4,350 years ago rearranged the world. (Read more about this in “Noah’s Lost World.”)
      While geographic isolation certainly can influence speciation and variation within created kinds of animals, there is no genetic mechanism known in biology by which isolation could create new and more complex kinds of animals from simpler ones, neither in the short term nor in millions of years. And neither Cambaytherium nor any other mammals would have been isolated on India for millions of years! They may well have been swept up and buried in the receding floodwaters, which may have not retreated from every continent at the same rate, as Answers in Genesis geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling explains:
      If these Cambaytherium fossils were formed from animals buried post-Flood, then those animals would have had to get from the Ark to India while India is still moving across the globe heading to slam into Asia to make the Himalayas. That would be a problem, as it is to the uniformitarians who write this paper. Yet these Cambaytherium fossils aren’t necessarily animals related to any of today’s animals, so they could be pre-Flood animals that were buried during the Flood, representatives of a kind that like many kinds preserved on the Ark later became extinct in the post-Flood world.
      And then there’s the question of just when India slammed into Asia. There can be no question that some decelerating catastrophic plate movements took place immediately after the Flood as the plates slowed down from their meters per second movement during the Flood. Yet it would seem these critters were buried while India was still moving northwards.

      To have been buried in early Eocene strata in India in a post-Flood catastrophe would require the animals disembarking from the Ark to have migrated to India, possibly on floating debris or land bridges, before they could be buried there. While this is not impossible, it remains more likely Cambaytherium and the other animals buried with it were buried by the Flood itself.

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