Extinct "Elephant Size" Camel Found in Syria

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El Kowm is an area of desert steppe that lies between two mountain ranges. The region is considered to be one of the oldest centers of human settlement in the Near East.

The University of Basel's Le Tensorer says that, at that time, the region would have been covered by savanna rather than desert and would have supported herd animals such as antelope.

Archaeological remains dating back 750,000 years suggest that prehistoric people were attracted to the springs in El Kowm.

Hunter-gatherers likely attacked and killed the giant camel when it visited one of these springs to drink, the researchers suggest.

Humanoid bones found near the camel's remains are thought to belong to modern man, Homo sapiens. But a tooth recovered from the site is similar to that of a Neandertal (often spelled "Neanderthal"), Le Tensorer says.

The bone fragments are now being analyzed in Switzerland, he says.

Ship of the Desert

According to Le Tensorer, the find suggests that dromedary camels existed in the region up to 90,000 years earlier than previously thought.

"It was not known that the dromedary was present in the Middle East more than 10,000 years ago," Le Tensorer said.

Some Syrian scientists say that the discovery shows that Syria may have been the birthplace of modern-day camels.

Bassam Jamous, head of antiquities at Syria's National Museum in Damascus, says that Tadmur is likely where these so-called ships of the desert first "emerged to the world."

(Related news: "In Sahara, Salt-Hauling Camel Trains Struggle On" [May 28, 2003].)

The camel species that lives today in the Middle East and North Africa is the Arabian camel, which is thought to have been domesticated thousands of years ago.

"Ordinary camels appeared in the region some 6,000 to 7,000 years ago," Le Tensorer told AP.

The earliest known reference to the one-humped Arabian camel is a pottery figure from Egypt, which dates back to about 3000 B.C.

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