A team of paleontologists working in Pakistan have excavated a tusk belonging to a 1.1 million-year-old stegodon in Punjab, Pakistan.
Stegodonts were the distant cousins of present-day elephants and roamed the Earth between 11 million years ago and the end of the last Ice Age, about 11,700 years ago.
The tusk is eight feet (2.44 meters) long and eight inches (20.3 centimeters) in diameter — the largest tusk to be discovered in Pakistan, the scientists reported in a statement.
Researchers at the University of Punjab’s zoology department found the tusk while on an expedition at the Padri village of Punjab’s Jhelum district, according to university spokesman Khurram Shahzad.
“This discovery adds to our knowledge about the evolution of the stegodon, particularly in this region,” said professor Muhammad Akhtar, as reported by AFP.
The fossil also broadens insight into what life was like in the region during the Pleistocene.
“If you have a complete tusk, that’s quite special — they are quite rare,” says Dr Gerrit Van Den Bergh, a paleontologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia, who specializes in prehistoric mammals, in a report by Phys.Org.
Akhtar determined the tusk’s age using uranium-lead radioactive dating technology, but Van Den Bergh says that further confirmation of the tusk’s age will be required.
Stegodonts are notorious for sporting long tusks that pointed almost straight downward as well as low-crowned teeth with peaked ridges. The teeth indicate that they fed primarily in forested regions, unlike mammoths or elephants who have high crowned plated molars for grazing.
The elephant-like creatures were also adept swimmers and evidence suggests they originated in Africa but gradually moved to southeast Asia, where the majority of their remains have been discovered.
“Around 1.2 million years ago they were still thriving,” says Van Den Bergh. “They are mostly an Asian species but remains have been found further afield. Recently a molar fragment was discovered in Greece.”
The stegodonts’ extinction coincided with the rise of modern humans, but it is not yet clear that the beasts were ever hunted by humans.