Fossil of Oldest Big Cat Found in Tibet

Posted on November 13, 2013

Panthera blytheae

Scientists have found the fossil of the oldest big cat on a dig in Tibet. A skull from the new species, named Panthera blytheae, was excavated by a team led by Jack Tseng. Tseng's wife, paleontologist Juan Liu, was part of the research team. Tseng was a PhD student at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the time of the discovery in 2010. He is now a postdoctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York.

Tseng wrote an article in Slate about how they found the incredible fossil. Tseng writes, "We stopped as disbelief sank in: This looked like the top of a cat skull."

The age of the skull is estimated to be about 4.4 million years old. For the past three years, Tseng and his team have used both anatomical and DNA data to determine that the skull represents a new species. The research was published here in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

A chart on National Geographic shows where P.blythae fits in on the big cat family tree. An older big cat fossil may be discovered at a future dig. Tseng told LiveScience that that P.blythae is not the most primitive big cat that ever existed. He says, "These fossils are the oldest, but they're by no means the most primitive. There is some big cat out there that has yet to be described."

Tseng also described the size of the ancient big cat for BBC News. He says, "This cat is a sister of living snow leopards - it has a broad forehead and a short face. But it's a little smaller - the size of clouded leopards."

Here a video of an animation of the digitally reconstructed cranium of Panthera blythea. Take a look:

Photo: Mauricio Anton

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