Biologist's Curiosity About Elephants Leads to Big Find

Israeli archaeologists dig up 'largest complete fossil tusk found at prehistoric site in Israel'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 31, 2022 1:38 PM CDT
'Very Puzzling, Very Enigmatic' Ancient Elephant Tusk Found
An Israeli archaeologist works next to the recently discovered 2.5-meter-long tusk of an estimated 500,000-year-old straight-tusked elephant, near the city of Gedera, Israel, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022.   (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Israeli archaeologists recently unearthed the titanic tusk of a prehistoric elephant near a kibbutz in southern Israel, a remnant of a behemoth once hunted by early people around half a million years ago. The Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday that the 8-foot-long fossil belonging to the long-extinct straight-tusked elephant was found during a joint excavation with researchers from Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University, reports the AP. The Times of Israel reports a biologist from Jerusalem set up a trip to the area "out of curiosity about the elephants," which were thought to have first inhabited Israel’s coastal plain about 800,000 years ago and died out about 300,000 years later.

That biologist, Dr. Eitan Mor, ended up spotting something that resembled a large animal bone poking out from the earth. Israel Antiquities Authority prehistorian Avi Levy, who headed the dig, said it was "the largest complete fossil tusk ever found at a prehistoric site in Israel or the Near East." The IAA added findings from elephants are rare, making this fossil one "of great scientific interest." The site was dated to the late lower paleolithic period, around 500,000 years ago, based on stone tools found in the vicinity, the antiquities authority said.

Omry Barzilai, an IAA archaeologist, said the find was "very puzzling, very enigmatic" because it was not clear whether ancient people hunted the behemoth on the spot or whether they brought the felled animal's tusk to this spot. The tusk was found near a kibbutz on the central plain running parallel to Israel's Mediterranean coast. But half a million years ago, when the ancient elephant died, the now-arid terrain was likely a swamp or shallow lake, an ideal habitat for ancient hominids. (More archaeology stories.)

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