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New Rendering of Camel Family Tree

Camel bones unearthed by miners in Canada's Yukon Territory are leading paleontologists to re-think the evolutionary history of the camel lineage.

Researchers from the US and Canada managed to eke out genomic data from the 125,000-year- to 75,000-year-old late Pleistocene western camel bones to develop high-coverage complete mitochondrial and low-coverage partial nuclear genomes for each specimen, as they've reported in Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Based on that, the researchers found that the three Yukon Camelops specimens are more closely related to African and Asian Camelus than to the South American Lama and Vicugna — in contrast to morphological-based phylogenies. They further estimated that Camelops diverged from the Old World Camelus lineage between some 17.5 million and 7 million years ago, sometime during the Early Miocene to middle Late Miocene.

Camelops cf.hesternus, which lived across central and western North America, went extinct about 13,000 years ago

"There's something pretty spectacular about holding on to a bone that's 100,000 years old that can tell us so much about the history of the past and the history of the land you live in," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist with the Yukon's Department of Tourism and Culture tells the Associated Press. "I think that's pretty spectacular."