London, Feb 23 : Scientists have discovered the oldest fossils of ancestors of present day rabbits and hares in the state of Gujarat in India.
The exact location of these fossils is the clay beds in the Vastan lignite mine, north-east of Mumbai in Gujarat.
According to a report in BBC News, the fossils, which consist of small ankle bones, date back to 53 million years. This period is referred to as the early part of the Eocene Epoch, when mammals first began to diversify into their present day forms.
These fossils belong to early examples of an animal group called lagomorphs, which today comprises hares, rabbits and a hamster-like animal called a pika.
The oldest lagomorphs known before this were from Central Asia and date to between 40 and 48 million years ago.
The study shows that the lagomorphs were already distinct from other mammals by 53 million years ago.
Analysis of some ankle bones from Vastan revealed anatomical features characteristic of hares and rabbits, suggesting that the lagomorphs were already beginning to diversify by the early Eocene.
The dates and locations of the finds suggested that some of their early evolution must have taken place while India was in the process of colliding with Asia.