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Giant prehistoric elephant tusk uncovered in southern Israel

Academics seek to study rare find to learn about significance of such remains in early human culture; Antiquities Authority says fossil will go on display after preservation

Archaeologists, paleontologists and conservators surround the tusk of a straight-tusked elephant, discovered at Kibbutz Revadim, southern Israel, in August 2022. (Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)
Archaeologists, paleontologists and conservators surround the tusk of a straight-tusked elephant, discovered at Kibbutz Revadim, southern Israel, in August 2022. (Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

A complete tusk from a large prehistoric elephant was uncovered near Kibbutz Revadim in southern Israel, archaeologists revealed on Wednesday.

The find was made earlier in August during a two-week excavation by Tel Aviv University and the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev called Operation Elephant.

The 2.5-meter-long remnant of the huge straight-tusked elephant — which is now extinct — was discovered by Dr. Eitan Mor, a biologist from Jerusalem, who organized a trip to the area out of curiosity about the elephants, according to an Israel Antiquities Authority statement.

“To my surprise, I spotted something that looked like a large animal bone peeping out of the ground. When I looked closer, I realized that it was ‘the real thing,’ so I rushed to report it to the Israel Antiquities Authority,” he said.

Scientists believe the elephant species, which would tower over their present-day descendants, arrived on Israel’s coastal plain about 800,000 years ago and died out approximately half a million years ago. According to the IAA, findings from elephants are rare and the fossil is “of great scientific interest.”

The IAA explained that past archaeological work at Revadim, where stone and flint tools and other fossilized remains have been discovered, revealed that humans had settled the area and hunted the elephants that roamed the region.

The IAA’s director, Eli Eskozido, noted that the find was of “primary importance for the academic community, but also of great public interest.”

Archaeologists, paleontologists and conservators surround the tusk of a straight-tusked elephant, discovered at Kibbutz Revadim, southern Israel, in August 2022. (Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

He added that the authority plans to publicly display the tusk after conservation efforts at the IAA’s permanent exhibition hall in Jerusalem.

Prof. Israel Hershkovitz from the Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory at Tel Aviv University said that the fossil, which was said to be in very good condition, is also “extremely fragile” and efforts were made to protect it after the initial find.

“Now we are excavating it within its archaeological context, before transferring it to the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Laboratory, where it will be studied and conserved,” Hershkovitz said.

The discovery of the tusk leads to questions over its presence at Revadim, according to Prof. Ofer Marder of Ben-Gurion University and Dr. Ianir Milevski of the IAA’s Prehistoric Branch.

“Is the tusk the remains of a hunted elephant, or was it collected by the local prehistoric inhabitants? Did the tusk have social or spiritual significance?” the academics asked.

The IAA said the joint study aims to resolve the debates surrounding the prehistoric elephant hunters and their culture.

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