Stone Age Elephant Found at Ancient U.K. Hunt Site

July 7, 2006

The 400,000-year-old remains of a massive elephant discovered near London provide the first evidence that Stone Age humans in Britain hunted and ate the ancient animals, scientists say.

The early humans butchered the elephant at the kill site and ate the meat raw, the archaeologists add.

The male straight-tusked elephant—a member of the extinct species Palaeoloxodon antiquus—weighed about 9 tons (9.1 metric tons), twice as large as elephants living today.

Workers unearthed the remains in 2004 in the town of Ebbsfleet, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of London (see map of the United Kingdom), during construction of a new railway line to the Channel Tunnel.

The elephant was found on the edge of an ancient lake along with stone tools that archaeologists say were used to cut up its flesh.

The mammal was probably killed by a group of hunter-gatherers armed with wooden spears, the study team adds.

The research was led by Francis Wenban-Smith, principal research fellow in archaeology at England's Southampton University. His team's findings are published in the current issue of the Journal of Quaternary Science.

Wenban-Smith says flint tools discovered near the elephant skeleton were preserved by fine layers of lake sediments.

"There was one cluster of stone artifacts between where the tusks were and another immediately to the side of its rib cage," he said.

Cutting Tools

The site is the first in Britain to reveal evidence of elephant butchery by early humans, though similar sites exist in Germany and Spain, Wenban-Smith says.

"These [European kill sites] date from very broadly the same period—between 1,000,000 and 300,000 years ago," the archaeologist said.

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