Fossil traces may reveal ancient elephant nurseries

The fossilized footprints found on the beaches of southern Spain betray what may have been an extinct elephant species nursery.

The railroad-rich coastal area, which scientists have dubbed the trampled surface of Mataras Canhas, is usually covered with 1.5 meters of sand, says Clive Finlayson, an evolutionary biologist at the Gibraltar National Museum. However, the storm surge in the spring of 2020 washed away much of that sand, Preserved footprints of ancient elephants, Cows, deer, pigs, wolves, waterfowl, and even Neanderthals, Finlayson and colleagues on September 16th. Science report. Previous studies suggest that the sandy clay deposits that host this herd of trucks were probably deposited about 106,000 years ago.

Among the newly discovered trucks are the first kind of footprints of newborns Straight elephant (((Palaeoloxodon antique), Perhaps an extinct species that died during the last ice age (SN: June 13, 2017). A small truck, 9.6 cm in diameter and about the size of a drink coaster, is a petite, perhaps two-month-old Pakiderm, with a shoulder height of about 66 cm and a weight of about 70 kg, slightly smaller than a Newfoundland dog. It suggests that it is heavy. ..

Based on previous findings elsewhere in the actual bone, an adult straight fang elephant could have weighed 5.5 tonnes for females and a whopping 13 tonnes for males.

The mix of elephant footprints on the premises suggests that family groups such as newborns, boys and adult women visited the area frequently and probably used it as a nursery, researchers said. increase. Other fossils found on the site, including those that preserve traces of ancient roots, suggest that the area is vegetated and dotted with lakes and ponds.

A series of three fossilized Neanderthal footprints (marked with a yellow pyramid) in the southern coastal area of ​​Spain indicate that ancient apes foraged or hunted in the area about 106,000 years ago. Suggests.C. Netode Calvalho et al/scientific Report 2021

The team’s findings are “a thrilling study,” says Anthony Martin, a trace fossil expert at Emory University in Atlanta who was not involved in the study. He says the series of footprints can show how ancient elephants worked, provide insights into their social structure, and even give a glimpse of their reproductive ecology. The newborns are part of a family group and “if they behaved like modern elephants, the mother had to be close,” says Martin.

In addition, the presence of Neanderthal footprints preserved on the site suggests that ancient apes may have foraged there and preyed on young elephants, dead elephants and other creatures. Martin says. The Neanderthals “probably weren’t stupid enough to catch a life-sized elephant.” Fossil traces may reveal ancient elephant nurseries

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