The tusk belonged to a massive distant relative of today's elephants, and could answer some pressing questions about the beast.
A team of scientists in Pakistan has made a wonderful discovery. Researchers have reportedly dug up a 1.1 million-year-old tusk in the Punjab province, belonging to a massive Stegodon. The massive mammoth-elephant cousin was named after the Greek translation for “roofed tooth.”
According to a report from Discovery News, the fossil belongs to a distant relative of present-day elephants. They first appeared roughly 11 million years ago, and disappeared from the face of the earth at the end of the last Ice Age. They roamed large areas of Asia, East and Central Africa, and North Africa during the Pleistocene era.
The recently unearthed tusk is a staggering 2.44 meters in length with a diameter of 20.3 cm. The tusk broke the record for the biggest ever found in Pakistan.
Scientists from the University of Punjab’s zoology department discovered the fossilized tusk in the Padri village in Punjab’s Jhelum district.
Stegodonts grew much larger than today’s elephants. One of the largest specimens ever found, dug up near the Yellow River in China, stood almost 13 feet tall and weight almost 13 tons. Interestingly enough, a dwarf population of stegodonts was believed to roam Indonesia until 12,000 years ago.
According to the excavation trip’s leader, Professor Muhammad Akhtar, the finding provides new insight into how the stegodont population evolved over time in the region. It also offers a look into the environment the beast lived in 1.1 million years ago.
The finding is a special one indeed – Dr. Gerrit Van Den Bergh, a University of Wollogong paleontologist says it’s extremely rare to find a complete tusk. It is much more common to find tiny fragment s that offer only an incomplete picture of the animal in its day.
While the fossil has yet to be dated using more verified methods, Professor Akhtar stands behind his estimate that the fossil came from the late Pleistocene period.
The tusk lacks the curvature of other similar species’ tusks, and was likely used to help the animals forage in a forest environment. This is in contrast to stegodonts’ cousins mammoths and elephants, which were grazers.
The majority of stegodont remains have been discovered in Asia, but paleontologists believe the species originated in Africa. They were believed to have been strong swimmers, which could have allowed them to make the journey between continents over time. Fossils have also been discovered on a number of Asian islands, including the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan.
“Around 1.2 million years ago they were still thriving,” said Dr. Van Den Bergh. “They are mostly an Asian species but remains have been found further afield. Recently a molar fragment was discovered in Greece.”
Scientists also believe that the stegodon lived alongside an early human ancestor, Homo floresiensis, roughly 12,000 years ago. There is little evidence that humans had a relationship with Stegodon, but their extinction seems to coincide with modern man’s emergence in the fossil record.
The finding is certainly exciting, and researchers hope to continue to dig for more specimens. “The research scholars of the zoology department have long been working at Pabbi of Rajo, Kharian, and Sahawa and discovered a number of ancient fossils,” wrote Akthar. “This discovery adds to our knowledge about the evolution of the stegodon, particularly in this region.”