Temporal range: Mid-Late Pleistocene
|Skull and model|
(Falconer & Cautley, 1847)
|Approximate range of P. antiquus|
The straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) is an extinct species of elephant that 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. It was formerly thought to be closely related to the living Asian elephant; however, in 2016, DNA sequence analysis showed that its closest extant relative is actually the African forest elephant, L. cyclotis. It is closer to L. cyclotis than L. cyclotis is to the African bush elephant, L. africana, thus invalidating the genus Loxodonta as currently recognized.
Palaeoloxodon antiquus was quite large, individuals reaching 4 metres (13.1 ft) in height. One approximately 40-year-old male measured about 3.81 metres (12.5 ft) tall and weighed about 11.3 tonnes (11.1 long tons; 12.5 short tons), while another from Montreuil weighed about 15 tonnes (14.8 long tons; 16.5 short tons) and was about 4.2 metres (13.8 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 metres (26 ft) above ground.
Straight-tusked elephants probably 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 may have migrated south. The straight-tusked elephant became extinct in Britain near the beginning of the Weichselian glaciation, about 115,000 years ago. Eventually, the ecological niche of the straight-tusked elephant would be taken 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. Paleontological and 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.
On the European mainland, many remains of the straight-tusked elephant have been found. In addition to skeletons, some sites contained additional 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 been recovered from the province of West Macedonia, and an Palaeoloxodon antiquus butchering site has been excavated near Megalopolis, in the Peloponnese.
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. The Iberian peninsula may have served as the last European refuge of the straight-tusked elephant. According to João Luís Cardoso, the species survived until 30,000 years BP in Portugal.
Elephants presumably evolved 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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- Japanese Wiki article about E. namadicus naumannni ja:ナウマンゾウ
- TRACCE Online Rack Art Bulletin paper about an elephant head Palaeolithic depiction in Portugal