The most mainstream elephant ancestor is by far the mammoth. But that in no way means that it was the only one. It just happened to catch the eye of the public, thus becoming a pop culture icon of our post Ice Age mistakes. But elephants also had other ancestors, smaller and not as impressive as the woolly mammoth, but still as important. These ancient elephant forefathers still have fossils found today, such as the mastodon, or the stegodon tusk found in Pakistan dated 1.1 million years old.
Found in the central province of Punjab, in Pakistan, the 1.1 million year old tusk measures around eight feet in length, although it has a slight curvature, and about 8 inches in diameter. This makes it the largest ever discovered in the country, and it might yield some answers regarding the animal’s evolution.
Large, hairy, and with surprisingly straight tusks, the stegodons were distant relative to the modern elephants, living on Earth for a very long while, from about 11 million years ago to some 11,700 years ago. Scientists still aren’t sure if humans were responsible for driving them to extinction or if it was something else.
Another thing that makes the discovery so important is that complete tusks belonging to the animals are very rarely found, so the measurements that had to be done in order to establish more about the animal, including how old it was, had to be done with the utmost care.
By using a dating technique that involves radioactive uranium lead, the team of experts analyzing the stegodon tusk managed to place the animal into the late Pleistocene, about 1.1 million years ago.
More about the animal
Known for their very long, straight tusks and strange low crowned teeth that also presented peaked ridges, the stegodons were most likely mixed feeders living in a mostly forested environment. This allowed them to eat both branches and trees without too many issues.
Another interesting fact about the stegodon is that unlike current elephants or even other elephant ancestors, their tusks were very, very close together. This means that their trunks were generally draped over the tusks instead of falling in between them.
As with modern day elephants, the stegodons were very strong swimmers, being able to cross rivers quite easily, and thus being an especially migratory species. They are thought to have originated in Africa, but they quickly spread to Asia, and some even to Europe.
Image source: Wikimedia