Straight-tusked elephant

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Straight-tusked elephant
Temporal range: Mid-Late Pleistocene
~0.4–0.03 Ma
Elephas antiquus.jpg
Skull and model (from Ambrona)
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Proboscidea
Family: Elephantidae
Genus: Palaeoloxodon
Species: P. antiquus
Binomial name
Palaeoloxodon antiquus
(Falconer & Cautley, 1847)
Elephas antiquus spreading area.png
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, Loxodonta 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.[1][2] Alternatively, Palaeoloxodon antiquus might be more appropriately described as Loxodonta antiquus.


Life restoration

Palaeoloxodon antiquus was quite large, with 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.[3] and had long, slightly upward-curving tusks.[4] 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.[5] With this tongue and a flexible trunk, straight-tusked elephants could graze or browse on Pleistocene foliage about 8 metres (26 ft) above ground.[citation needed]


Straight-tusked elephants probably lived in small herds of about five to 15 individuals.[citation needed] 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.


Skeleton in Naturkunde Museum, Berlin
Illustration from 1916
Full-size reconstruction in the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon

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.[6]

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,[7][8][9][10] and a Palaeoloxodon antiquus butchering site has been excavated near Megalopolis, in the Peloponnese.[11][12]

Straight-tusked elephant remains have been found with flint tools at a number of other sites, such as Torralba and Aridos in Spain, Notarchirico in Italy, and Gröbern and Ehringsdorf in Germany.

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 Palaeoloxodon antiquus.[13] The Iberian peninsula may have served as the last European refuge of the straight-tusked elephant. According to João Luís Cardoso,[14] the species survived until 30,000 years BP in Portugal.

Dwarfed descendants[edit]


Elephants that presumably evolved from the straight-tusked elephant are described from many Mediterranean islands, where they evolved into dwarfed elephants.[citation needed] The responsible factors for the dwarfing of island mammals are thought to be the reduction in food availability, predation and competition.


  1. ^ Callaway, E. (2016-09-16). "Elephant history rewritten by ancient genomes". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2016.20622.
  2. ^ Meyer, Matthias; Palkopoulou, Eleftheria; Baleka, Sina; Stiller, Mathias; Penkman, Kirsty E H; Alt, Kurt W; Ishida, Yasuko; Mania, Dietrich; Mallick, Swapan; Meijer, Tom; Meller, Harald; Nagel, Sarah; Nickel, Birgit; Ostritz, Sven; Rohland, Nadin; Schauer, Karol; Schüler, Tim; Roca, Alfred L; Reich, David; Shapiro, Beth; Hofreiter, Michael (6 June 2017). "Palaeogenomes of Eurasian straight-tusked elephants challenge the current view of elephant evolution". eLife. 6: e25413. doi:10.7554/eLife.25413.
  3. ^ Larramendi, A. (2016). "Shoulder height, body mass and shape of proboscideans" (PDF). Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. 61. doi:10.4202/app.00136.2014.
  4. ^ R. D. E. McPhee Extinctions in Near Time: Causes, Contexts, and Consequences p.262
  5. ^ Shoshani et al., 2001, pp.665-667
  6. ^ BBC News. 2006. Early signs of elephant butchers. Downloaded at 2 July 2006 from
  7. ^ Poulianos, A., Poulianos, N., 1980. Pliocene elephant hunters in Greece, preliminary report. Anthropos 7, 108e121 (Athens).
  8. ^ Poulianos, N., 1986. Osteological data of the Late Pliocene elephant of Perdikkas. Anthropos 11, 49e80 (Athens).
  9. ^ Tsoukala, E., Lister, A., 1998. Remains of straight-tusked elephant Elephas (Palaeoloxodon) antiquus Falc. and Caut. 1847, ESR-dated to oxygen isotope stage 6 from Grevena (W. Macedonia, Greece). Bolletino della Societa Paleontologica Italiana 37 (1), 117-139.
  10. ^ Kevrekidis, Charalampos (2016). "A new partial skeleton of Elephas (Palaeoloxodon) antiquus Falconer and Cautley, 1847 (Proboscidea, Elephantidae) from Amyntaio, Macedonia, Greece". Quaternary International. 406: 35–56. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.11.110.
  11. ^ Panagopoulou, Eleni; Tourloukis, Vangelis; Thompson, Nicholas; Athanassiou, Athanassios; Tsartsidou, Georgia; Konidaris, George E.; Giusti, Domenico; Karkanas, Panagiotis; Harvati, Katerina (February 2015). "Marathousa 1: a new Middle Pleistocene archaeological site from Greece". Antiquity. 343.
  12. ^ "Paleolithic elephant butchering site found in Greece". 2015-11-25. Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  13. ^ Arcà A. 2014, Elephas antiquus depicted at Vermelhosa rock art? TRACCE Online Rock Art Bulletin, 31. Accessed at 23 November 2014 from
  14. ^ Cardoso J.L. 1993, Contribuição para o conhecimento dos grandes mamíferos do Plistocénico Superior de Portugal, Oeiras.


  • Shoshani, J., N. Goren-Inbar, R. Rabinovich. 2001. A stylohyoideum of Palaeoloxodon antiquus from Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel: morphology and functional inferences. The World of Elephants - International Congress, Rome 2001. pp 665–667. Online pdf

Further reading[edit]

  • BBC News. 2004. Stone Age elephant remains found. Downloaded at 2 July 2006 from
  • 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
  • Wenban-Smith, F.F. & Bridgland, D.R. 1997. Newly discovered Pleistocene deposits at Swanscombe: an interim report. Lithics 17/18: 3–8.
  • Wenban-Smith, F.F. & Bridgland, D.R. 2001. Palaeolithic archaeology at the Swan Valley Community School, Swanscombe, Kent. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 67: 219–259.
  • Wenban-Smith, F.F., P. Allen, M. R. Bates, S. A. Parfitt, R. C. Preece, J. R. Stewart, C. Turner, J. E. Whittaker. 2006. The Clactonian elephant butchery site at Southfleet Road, Ebbsfleet, UK. Journal of Quaternary Science. Volume 21, Issue 5, p 471-483.

External links[edit]