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An insight into Europe's extinct giant elephants
The Eurasian elephant, with its four-metre-high shoulders, is the largest exhibit in the 'Elephant Empire' area of the LVR-LandesMuseum in Bonn, Germany.

Eurasian elephant in the LVR-Landesmuseum Bonn [Credit: Hans-Theo Gerhards/LVR-Museumsverbund]
The life-sized skeleton model welcomes exhibition visitors in the stairway foyer with a raised trunk. The imposing animal, which would have weighted about 11 tons, offers a glimpse into life in central Europe some 200,000 years ago.

The find was discovered at a salt lake near Halle. In addition to the elephant skeleton, remains ranging from fish to insects as well as tools of pre-Neanderthals are among the objects exhibited until November 6. Between 1985 and 1996, archaeologists recovered the treasures at the Neumark lignite strip mining site. The elephants died at a lake which existed about 11,000 years ago and later silted up. The relics of an entire lake biotope were extremely well preserved as if in a time capsule. And the diversity of species found is one-of-a-kind.

The skeleton remains of nearly 70 elephants were discovered in the lignite coal mine. When the mine was operative, it was common for archaeologist Dietrich Mania to be called in the middle of the night and be told by the excavation operator: 'If you are not here in the morning, the elephant is gone.'

Every time, Mania would rush to the mine to rescue the find.

The exhibition organisers were able to construct a complete skeleton of an elephant with all the bone finds. Researchers estimate that between 20 and 30 elephants lived near the lake during that time. When one thinks that such a giant elephant would eat about 300 kilograms of forage per day, it's easy to imagine the character of the landscape back then.

Elephant skulls in the LVR-Landesmuseum Bonn [Credit: Hans-Theo Gerhards/LVR-Museumsverbund]
During the interglacial period, some 200,000 years ago, there was a sub-continental climate with especially dry and warm summers and harsh winters. Mid-July temperatures would have been more than 20 degrees Celsius. The conditions proved perfect for oak forest steppe and short grass steppe. In addition to elephants with their huge tusks, steppe rhinoceros, hyenas and fallow deer also lived in the region.

There are also tracks of man, the pre-Neanderthals. They knew that big prey could be had at water sites and salt-licks. They prepared themselves extensively for the hunt, watching and waiting in field camps 50 to 100 metres from the lakes. Individual flintstones and leftovers suggested lengthy habitation.

The small groups of hunters only stayed until they had captured enough meat and raw materials. Then they returned to their domiciles - which were often very far from the hunting grounds. There are no signs that they also hunted the giant elephants, but they used their bones to prepare their tools.

The exhibition shows one more thing. Mammoths also had tooth decay. One tooth of such a colossus on display shows two deep holes. 'That was nearly a toothache,' said curator Christian Peitz.

Author: Guenter Waechter | Source: Monster and Critics [May 02, 2011]

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