Ancient ‘Monster’ Elephant Was 50 Percent Bigger Than Modern Cousins

A tusk belonging to the 500,000-year-old elephant that researchers discovered in Saudi Arabia’s Nafud Desert.

Credit: Saudi Geological Survey

CALGARY, Alberta —  Half a million years ago, the Arabian Peninsula wasn’t a sandy desert but rather a lush, wet landscape. There, a gigantic elephant — 50 percent larger than today’s biggest elephants — tromped around an ancient lake before dying, a new fossil skeleton reveals.

The behemoth, known as Elephas recki, is an ancient elephant species that existed from about 3.5 million years ago to about 300,000 years ago and lived in parts of Africa and the Middle East, said study lead researcher, Iyad Zalmout, a paleontologist with the Saudi Geological Survey in Jeddah.

Researchers first began uncovering the newfound animal’s remains in northwestern Saudi Arabia’s Nafud Desert in 2014, but other parts of the same individual were unearthed as recently as this year, and excavation work is ongoing, said study co-researcher Dan Fisher, the director of the Museum of Paleontology at the University of Michigan. [Mammoth Resurrection: 11 Hurdles to Bringing Back an Ice Age Beast]

So far, researchers have discovered about 60 percent of the elephant’s fossilized bones, making it “one of the best-preserved examples of this species from this part of the world,” Fisher told Live Science. Scientists have found fossils of this ancient Asian elephant relative before, including a 1.8-million-year-old individual from the Turkana Lake Basin in northern Kenya.

Fisher added that although E. recki was 50 percent larger than the largest modern elephants, it was vastly heavier, “at least twice the weight of today’s elephants, if not more,” Fisher said.

The bull (a male elephant) had reached adulthood before it died, an analysis of its bones revealed. After the animal kicked the bucket, the fine…

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