Remains belonged to a female who weighed more than 6 tons. Evidence suggests that stone age hunters also fed on the carcass.
Researchers at the University of Tübingen, Germany, found the almost complete skeleton of an elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) that died 300,000 years ago in Schöningen, in the north of the country. The discovery was published this month in the Archäologie in Deutschland.
The animal died and was fossilized on the banks of a lake that existed in the region at the time – and was found in a sediment basin that was full of water. “We found both 2.3-metre-long tusks, the complete lower jaw, numerous vertebrae and ribs as well as large bones belonging to three of the legs and even all five delicate hyoid bones,” said Jordi Serangeli, who participated in the research, in a statement.
The animal was a female that weighed 6.8 tons, was about 3.2 meters tall, and probably died of old age. “Elephants often remain near and in water when they are sick or old,” explained Ivo Verheijen, co-author of the study. “Numerous bite marks on the recovered bones show that carnivores visited the carcass.”
According to the researchers, some hominids from that time would also have benefited from the elephant’s remains. During the excavations, the team found 30 small flint flakes and two long bones that were used as tools next to the animal’s bones. “The Stone Age hunters probably cut meat, tendons and fat from the carcass,” said Serangeli.
Scientists believe that elephant carcasses may have been a diverse and relatively common source of food and resources for Homo heidelbergensis, which inhabited the region at that time. According to Serangeli, although the Paleolithic hominids were talented hunters, there was no reason for them to put themselves at risk by hunting adult elephants when they could enjoy the carcasses of the animals.
“The lakeshore sediments of Schöningen offer unique preservation and frequently provide us with detailed and important insights into the culture of Homo heidelbergensis,” noted Nicholas Conard, head of the Schöningen research project.