The animal, named Haploidoceros mediterraneus, lived in the Pleistocene about 90,000 years ago. To date, remains of H. mediterraneus were only found at two sites located in the South of France. Montserrat Sanz and Joan Daura, researchers from the Seminar on Prehistoric Studies and Research (SERP-UB) and the Quaternary Research Group (GRQ), affiliated with SERP-UB, discovered the remains. Their analysis was carried out together with Jean-Philip Brugal, researcher from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) at Aix Marseille University.
Haploidoceros mediterraneus was smaller than today’s deer. Antlers morphology is a key feature to differentiate between cervid species. H. mediterraneus has big antlers, comprising two sickle-shaped beams curving backwards and laterally. Haploidoceros comes from Greek haploides, ‘simple shape’ and ceros, ‘antler’.
The Cova del Rinoceront is a Palaeolithic site with a long chronological sequence that extends from 200,000 to 80,000 BC. Researchers from SERP-GRQ of the University of Barcelona have been excavating there since 2002. The site has provided many Pleistocene faunal remains that give information about how the environment was before the last glacial period.
In 2012, the skeleton of a young elephant and many remains of Mediterranean turtle were found. Although there is plenty information about the fauna of the last ice period, animals such as the mammoth or the woolly rhinoceros, the fauna which lived in the Catalan coast before the last ice period is quite unknown.
The discovery of an unknown species in the Iberian Peninsula turns the Cova del Rinoceront into one of the most relevant sites to obtain information about prehistoric fauna evolution and extinction. The finding certifies that Haploidoceros mediterraneus was a common cervid on both sides of the Pyrenees and that its origin might be the Iberian Peninsula. Remains correspond to all parts of the skeleton and to at least twelve individuals.
This new record of H. mediterraneus provides evidence of a longer chronological distribution because in France, to be exact in Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées, the most ancient remains are dated at about 300,000 years ago. It also proves that in Pleistocene this species was commoner than it was thought, and that its habitat occupied, at least, the South of Europe. Moreover, the finding enables to confirm that Haploidoceros mediterraneus co-lived with other cervids, such as the fallow deer or the red deer, and that it became extinct due to the climate changes produced at the beginning of the last ice period.
Archaeological excavations are coordinated by researchers Montserrat Sanz and Joan Daura, members of GRQ- SERP, a UB research group led by the professor of Prehistory, Josep M. Fullola. Excavations have been funded by the Archaeology and Palaeontology Service of the Government of Catalonia and Castelldefels City Council, together with other organizations such as the Historical Research Group of Castelldefels (GREHIC).