"Mayor makes a convincing case that the places where a lot of these myths originate occur in places where there are a lot of fossil beds," said Strasser. "She also points out that in some myths monsters emerge from the ground after big storms, which is just one of those things I had never thought about, but it makes sense, that after a storm the soil has eroded and these bones appear."
Wandering the Earth
A cousin to the elephant, deinotheres roamed Europe, Asia, and Africa during the Miocene (23 to 5 million years ago) and Pliocene (5 to 1.8 million years ago) eras before becoming extinct.
Finding the remains on Crete suggests the mammal moved around larger areas of Europe than previously believed, Fassoulas said. Fassoulas is in charge of the museum's paleontology division, and oversaw the excavation.
He suggests that the animals reached Crete from Turkey, swimming and island hopping across the southern Aegean Sea during periods when sea levels were lower. Many herbivores, including the elephants of today, are exceptionally strong swimmers.
"We believe that these animals came probably from Turkey via the islands of Rhodes and Karpathos to reach Crete," he said.
The Deinotherium's tusks, unlike the elephants of today, grew from its lower jaw and curved down and slightly back rather than up and out. Wear marks on the tusks suggest they were used to strip bark from trees, and possibly to dig up plants.
"According to what we know from studies in northern and eastern Europe, this animal lived in a forest environment," said Fassoulas. "It was using his ground-faced tusk to dig, settle the branches and bushes, and in general to find his food in such an ecosystem."
The fossils were uncovered when land was being cleared for an olive orchard; Fassoulas is encouraging farmers to be on the lookout for more.
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