Temporal range: Pleistocene–Holocene
|Fossil skull of a straight-tusked elephant (P. antiquus)|
|Elephas namadicus naumanni|
Palaeoloxodon is an extinct genus that contains the various species of straight-tusked elephants. Its species' remains have been found in Bilzingsleben, Germany; Cyprus; Japan; India; Sicily; Malta; and England during the excavation of the second Channel Tunnel. The English discovery, in 2006 in northwest Kent, dated to around 400,000 years ago, and was of a single adult; associated with it were Palaeolithic stone butchering tools of the type used by Homo heidelbergensis. One species, Palaeoloxodon namadicus, was possibly the largest known land mammal.
In 1924, Hikoshichiro Matsumoto circumscribed Palaeoloxodon as a subgenus of Loxodonta. It included the "E. antiquus—namadicus group", and he designated "E. namadicus naumanni Mak." as its type species.
Palaeoloxodon was later thought to be a subgenus of Elephas, but this was abandoned by 2007. In 2016, a DNA sequence analysis of P. antiquus suggested that its closest extant relative may be the African forest elephant, L. cyclotis. The paper argues that P. antiquus is closer to L. cyclotis than L. cyclotis is to the African bush elephant, L. africana, thus invalidating the genus Loxodonta as currently recognized. Alternatively the genus Palaeoloxodon may be invalid, with its various members being better fitted to either Loxodonta or Elephas.
Some notable species are:
- P. antiquus (Europe, Middle east, Asia), was larger than the modern African elephant
- P. chaniensis (Crete), dwarf elephant
- P. cypriotes (Cyprus), dwarf elephant
- P. falconeri (Sicily and Malta), dwarf elephant
- P. mnaidriensis (Sicily), dwarf elephant
- P. namadicus (Asia), the largest in its genus, and possibly the largest terrestrial mammal ever
- P. naumanni (Southern Japan), dwarf elephant and possible subspecies of E. namadicus
- P. recki (east Africa), the oldest (4.0 - 0.6 million years ago) and one of the largest species
The last mainland European Palaeoloxodon faced extinction 30,000 years ago. The Japanese species possibly survived for a little longer afterwards. Among the last straight-tusked elephants were the Mediterranean dwarf species, which died out 3,000 years ago - possibly at the hands of human hunters and introduced predators.
A Palaeoloxodon population of undetermined species is claimed to have survived in northern China until 3,000 years ago. Li Ji and colleagues from the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Beijing, argued that teeth previously believed to belong to Asian elephants were actually those of Palaeoloxodon. Whether these belong to a new, distinctive species or actual descendants of P. namadicus is unknown. They also argued that ritual bronze vessels depicting trunks with two "fingers" must be Palaeoloxodon (which are only known from bones; their trunk characteristics are unknown) because Asian elephants only have one. Fossil elephant experts Victoria Herridge and Adrian Lister disagree with the assignment, stating that the claimed diagnostic dental features are actually contrast artifacts created due to the low image resolution of the figures in the scientific paper, which are not evident in better-quality photographs. Given that the appearance of Palaeoloxodon trunks is unknown, and the bronze depictions of animals shown in the paper are highly stylized, the argument based on bronze vessels is also unreliable. Thus, these elephants are more likely Asian elephants, as originally believed.
- 松本彦七郎 (1924). 日本産化石象の種類(略報). 地質学雑誌 (in Japanese). 31 (371): 255–272. doi:10.5575/geosoc.31.371_255.
- "Early signs of elephant butchers". BBC News. 30 June 2006.
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- Turner, A. (2004) Prehistoric Mammals. Larousse
- Li, J.; Hou, Y.; Li, Y.; Zhang, J. (2012). "The latest straight-tusked elephants (Palaeoloxodon)? "Wild elephants" lived 3000 years ago in North China". Quaternary International. 281: 84. Bibcode:2012QuInt.281...84L. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2011.10.039.
- Warwicker, Michelle (19 December 2012). "Extinct elephant 'survived late' in North China". BBC News.
- Switek, Brian. "Bronze Age Art Sparks Debate over the Straight-Tusked Elephant".