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|A skull and model|
(Falconer & Cautley, 1847)
The straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) is an extinct species of elephant closely related to the living Asian elephant. It inhabited Europe during the Middle and Late Pleistocene (781,000–50,000 years before present). Some experts[who?] regard the larger Asian species, Palaeoloxodon namadicus, as a variant or subspecies.
Palaeoloxodon antiquus was quite large, individuals reaching 4.26 metres (14.0 ft) in height. One 40-year-old male was 3.81 metres (12.5 ft) tall and weighed 11.3 tonnes (11.1 long tons; 12.5 short tons), while another from Montreuil weighed about 15 tonnes (15 long tons; 17 short tons) and was 4.2 metres (14 ft) tall. and had long, slightly upward-curving tusks. P. antiquus's legs were slightly longer than those of modern elephants. This elephant is thought to have had an 80-cm-long tongue that could be projected a short distance from the mouth to grasp leaves and grasses. With this tongue and a flexible trunk, straight-tusked elephants could graze or browse on Pleistocene foliage about 8 m above ground.
Straight-tusked elephants lived in small herds of about five to 15 individuals. They preferred warm conditions and flourished in the interglacial periods during the current Ice Age, spreading from continental Europe to Great Britain during the warmer periods. It is assumed that they preferred wooded environments. During colder periods, the species migrated south. It became extinct in Britain by the beginning of the last glacial, about 115,000 years ago. Eventually it was replaced by the mammoth.
Finds of isolated tusks are relatively common in the United Kingdom. For example, a tusk of this elephant was found during the construction of the Swan Valley Community School in Swanscombe, Kent. However, finds of whole or partial skeletons of this elephant are very rare.
Skeleton finds in the United Kingdom are known from only a few sites. Two sites were found in the Lower Thames basin, one at Upnor, Kent and one at Aveley, Essex. Archaeological excavations in advance of High Speed 1 revealed the 400,000-year-old skeleton of a straight-tusked elephant in the Ebbsfleet Valley, near Swanscombe. It was lying at the edge of what would once have been a small lake. Flint tools lay scattered around, suggesting the elephant had been cut up by a tribe of the early humans around at the time, known as Homo heidelbergensis. In Greece, three partial skeletons have so far been recovered from the province of W. Macedonia.
On the European mainland, many remains of the straight-tusked elephant have been found. A handful of these sites even contain, besides a skeleton, archaeological material, as in the Ebbsfleet Valley (England). A skeleton at Lehringen (Germany) was found with the remains of a yew spear between its ribs and lithic artifacts around the head. In Greece, three partial skeletons have so far been recovered from the province of W. Macedonia.
A Palaeolithic scratched figure of an elephant head in the Vermelhosa area, Portugal, near the Côa Valley Park, is reported to be the depiction of an Elephas antiquus. In fact Iberian peninsula is referred as the last European refuge of the straight-tusked elephant: regarding Portugal, João Luís Cardoso  affirms that this species survived till 30,000 BP.
Elephants presumably derived from the straight-tusked elephant are described from many Mediterranean islands, where they evolved into dwarfed elephants. The responsible factors for the dwarfing of island mammals are thought to be the reduction in food availability, predation and competition.
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- Cardoso J.L. 1993, Contribuição para o conhecimento dos grandes mamíferos do Plistocénico Superior de Portugal, Oeiras.
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- BBC News. 2004. Stone Age elephant remains found. Downloaded at 2 July 2006 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/kent/3821527.stm.
- Masseti, M. 1994. On the Pleistocene occurrence of Elephas (Palaeoloxodon) antiquus in the Tuscan Archipelago, Northern Tyrrhenian Sea (Italy). Hystni, 5: 101-105. Online pdf
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