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
P. antiquus
Binomial name
Palaeoloxodon antiquus
(Falconer & Cautley, 1847)
Palaeoloxodon antiquus spreading area.png
Approximate range of P. antiquus

The straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) is an extinct species of elephant that inhabited Europe and Western Asia during the Middle and Late Pleistocene (781,000–50,000 years before present). Recovered individuals have reached up to 4–4.2 metres (13.1–13.8 ft) in height, and an estimated 11.3–15 tonnes (11.1–14.8 long tons; 12.5–16.5 short tons) in weight. The straight-tusked elephant probably lived in small herds, flourishing in interglacial periods, when its range would extend as far as Great Britain. Isolated tusks are often found while partial or whole skeletons are rare, and there is evidence of predation by early humans. It is a possible ancestor of dwarf elephants that later inhabited islands in the Mediterranean.


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.[1] and had long, slightly upward-curving tusks.[2] 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.[3] With this tongue and a flexible trunk, straight-tusked elephants could graze or browse on Pleistocene foliage about 8 metres (26 ft) above ground.[4]


Some experts[who?] regard the larger Asian species Palaeoloxodon namadicus as a variant or subspecies. Historically, the genus Palaeoloxodon has at times been regarded as a subgenus of Elephas, but a 2007 study of hyoid characteristics amongst living and fossil elephants has largely led to an abandonment of this hypothesis.[5] In 2016, a DNA sequence analysis of P. antiquus suggested that its closest extant relative may be the African forest elephant, L. cyclotis. The paper argues that P. antiquus is closer to L. cyclotis than L. cyclotis is to the African bush elephant, L. africana, thus invalidating the genus Loxodonta as currently recognized.[6][7] A subsequent study published by Palkopoulou et al. (2018) indicated a more complicated relationship between straight-tusked elephants and other species of elephants; according to this study, the biggest genetic contribution to straight-tusked elephants comes a lineage of elephants that was basal to the common ancestor of forest and bush elephants, which subsequently hybridized with members of the lineage related to extant African forest elephants and with the lineage related to woolly mammoths.[8]


Straight-tusked elephants probably lived in small herds of about five to 15 individuals.[9] 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.[10]

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,[11][12][13][14] and a Palaeoloxodon antiquus butchering site has been excavated near Megalopolis, in the Peloponnese.[15][16]

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.[17] The Iberian peninsula may have served as the last European refuge of the straight-tusked elephant. According to João Luís Cardoso,[18] 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. ^ Larramendi, A. (2016). "Shoulder height, body mass and shape of proboscideans" (PDF). Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. 61. doi:10.4202/app.00136.2014.
  2. ^ R. D. E. McPhee Extinctions in Near Time: Causes, Contexts, and Consequences p.262
  3. ^ Shoshani et al., 2001, pp.665-667
  4. ^ Goren-Inbar, N., Rabinovich, R. (2001) A stylohyoideum of Palaeoloxodon antiquus from Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel: morphology and functional inferences NMO Excavation View project Exploring Hominin Behavioral Patterns Through Time and Space: A Morpho-Techno-Functional Analysis of 3d Digital Models of Stone Handaxes. View project.
  5. ^ Shoshani, J.; Ferretti, M. P.; Lister, A. M.; Agenbroad, L. D.; Saegusa, H.; Mol, D.; Takahashi, K. (2007). "Relationships within the Elephantinae using hyoid characters". Quaternary International. 169-170: 174–185. Bibcode:2007QuInt.169..174S. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2007.02.003.
  6. ^ Callaway, E. (2016-09-16). "Elephant history rewritten by ancient genomes". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2016.20622.
  7. ^ 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. PMC 5461109. PMID 28585920.
  8. ^ Eleftheria Palkopoulou; Mark Lipson; Swapan Mallick; Svend Nielsen; Nadin Rohland; Sina Baleka; Emil Karpinski; Atma M. Ivancevic; Thu-Hien To; R. Daniel Kortschak; Joy M. Raison; Zhipeng Qu; Tat-Jun Chin; Kurt W. Alt; Stefan Claesson; Love Dalén; Ross D. E. MacPhee; Harald Meller; Alfred L. Roca; Oliver A. Ryder; David Heiman; Sarah Young; Matthew Breen; Christina Williams; Bronwen L. Aken; Magali Ruffier; Elinor Karlsson; Jeremy Johnson; Federica Di Palma; Jessica Alfoldi; David L. Adelson; Thomas Mailund; Kasper Munch; Kerstin Lindblad-Toh; Michael Hofreiter; Hendrik Poinar; David Reich (2018). "A comprehensive genomic history of extinct and living elephants". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 115 (11): E2566–E2574. doi:10.1073/pnas.1720554115. PMC 5856550. PMID 29483247.
  9. ^ Goren-Inbar, N., Rabinovich, R. (2001) A stylohyoideum of Palaeoloxodon antiquus from Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel: morphology and functional inferences NMO Excavation View project Exploring Hominin Behavioral Patterns Through Time and Space: A Morpho-Techno-Functional Analysis of 3d Digital Models of Stone Handaxes. View project.
  10. ^ BBC News. 2006. Early signs of elephant butchers. Downloaded at 2 July 2006 from
  11. ^ Poulianos, A., Poulianos, N., 1980. Pliocene elephant hunters in Greece, preliminary report. Anthropos 7, 108e121 (Athens).
  12. ^ Poulianos, N., 1986. Osteological data of the Late Pliocene elephant of Perdikkas. Anthropos 11, 49e80 (Athens).
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Paleolithic elephant butchering site found in Greece". 2015-11-25. Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  17. ^ Arcà A. 2014, Elephas antiquus depicted at Vermelhosa rock art? TRACCE Online Rock Art Bulletin, 31. Accessed at 23 November 2014 from
  18. ^ 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]