‘Missing Link’ of Elephant Family Unearthed
By Jeanna Bryner
LiveScience Staff Writer
01 November 2006
A 27-million-year-old fossil could be the “missing link” between modern elephants and their ancestors, scientists have concluded.
Researchers led by Jeheskel Shoshani of the University of Amara in Eritrea recently discovered the lower part of a mandible in the northeast African country of Eritrea. The unearthed tooth had a structure intermediate in shape between modern and ancient elephants.
“This is really pointing toward the Horn of Africa as being a real hot bed for the evolution of elephants,” said study team member William Sanders of the Museum of Paleontology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
The new species, named Eritreum melakeghebrekristosi, is estimated to have been 1,067 pounds heavy and about 4.2 feet tall at the shoulder.
This is far smaller than modern elephants, the researchers note this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Asian and African elephants are the only living members of the order Probiscideans, a group of mammals that includes elephants and their extinct relatives.
However, until this recent unearthing and a few others around the Horn of Africa, there were no Proboscidean fossils known for the period 25 to 28 million years ago.
As members of the Elephantida evolved, they got larger and developed more complex features, such as advanced molars for grinding food.
See also here.
Elephants recognizing themselves in mirrors: here.
African elephants and marula trees: here.
Eritrea: Serious Action to Be Taken to Prevent Forestry And Wildlife Destruction in Gash-Barka Region: here.