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Prehistoric Elephant Remains Suggest Early Humans Worked Together to Bring Down Large Prey

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Sep 19, 2013 04:56 PM EDT
Tusks
Pictured here are the tusks of an elephant dating back 420,000 years. The discovery of a massive, prehistoric elephant offers new evidence that early humans collaborated in groups to hunt and kill their prey. (Photo : University of Southampton)

The discovery of a massive, prehistoric elephant carcass offers new evidence that early humans collaborated in groups to hunt and kill large prey.

Discovered in Kent, England, the elephant was twice the size of today's African variety and weighed up to four times more than a minivan. Surrounding it were some 80 flint tools, suggesting the carcass had been butchered for meat.

Analysis of the remains place them back in time roughly 420,000 years to a period when the climate was likely slightly warmer than today.

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"Rich fossilised remains surrounding the elephant skeleton, including pollen, snails and a wide variety of vertebrates, provide a remarkable record of the climate and environment the early humans inhabited," Francis Wenban-Smith of the University of Southampton said in a statement. "Analysis of these deposits show they lived at a time of peak interglacial warmth, when the Ebbsfleet Valley was a lush, densely wooded tributary of the Thames, containing a quiet, almost stagnant swamp."

And while he admits there is no direct evidence as to how the elephant died, the fact that nearly all prehistoric butchered elephant remains discovered throughout Europe are males in their prime is proof, Wenban-Smith says, of hunting.

"Although it seems incredible that they could have killed such an animal, it must have been possible with wooden spears," he said, noting that previous discoveries prove that the hominems dating back to this period had such weapons.

According to the Wenban-Smith, the ability to hunt large prey would partially explain how these individuals managed to move northward into Britain after an ice age 30,000 years previous wiped out the early humans living there.

Finally, the discovery is unique as it marks the first time elephant remains accompanied with signs of human exploitation were discovered in Britain.

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