Rare 500,000-year-old elephant tusk unearthed by archaeologists in Israel

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Israeli archaeologists on Wednesday displayed a rare tusk half a million years old, from an enormous now-extinct elephant, which scholars see as testament to a social ritual by prehistoric humans.

The 2.6-metre (8.5-foot) artifact, weighing approximately 150 kilos (330 pounds), was discovered by biologist Eitan Mor at an excavation site near Revadim, a village in southern Israel.

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The excavation was managed by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which said the fossil tusk was the largest to be found in the Near East.
Avi Levy, director of the excavation, said it was “fantastic” to find the “extremely preserved tusk.”

“The elephant is a straight-tusked elephant, which became extinct from our area around 400,000 years ago,” he said.

“Next to the tusk were flint tools prehistoric man used to chop and skin the animals in the region, apparently the elephants too.”

The identity of the prehistoric humans who inhabited the region -- a land-bridge from Africa to Asia and Europe -- was “a mystery” said Levy.

“We haven’t found remains of people here, we only find their material culture -– the trash they discarded after use, whether animal bones or flint tools,” the historian added.

Previous excavations at the Revadim site showed evidence of the “processing of elephant bones –- some were turned into tools used by people, and some have cut marks” having been broken for consumption, Levy said.

Judging by the size of its tusk, the elephant would have stood up to five meters (16.5 feet) tall, significantly larger than today’s African elephants.

The quantity of the meat such an animal would yield and its fatty nature, which makes it difficult to preserve, would indicate that hunting an elephant would serve a societal function, according to Israel Hershkovitz, a biological anthropologist at Tel Aviv University.

“Groups of hunter-gatherers in certain times would arrive at gathering places, in which they would trade women and information and reaffirm social ties that had weakened over the year and go on a hunt of an elephant, something symbolic,” he said.

And while the tusks could have been a key symbol, they would not necessarily move with the nomadic peoples, if only because of their bulk and weight.

“They might have developed some sort of ritual around these tusks and at a certain time, they had to move, the families had to roam to find new living spaces,” he said.

Following the excavations, which were carried out with academics from Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the tusk will be transferred to an IAA facility for further research.

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