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Scientists believe they have discovered full skeleton of world's largest-ever elephant

By The Siberian Times reporter
21 July 2015

Remains of extinct 'Steppe Mammoth' could bring new leap in understanding of 200,000 year old creatures.

It will be next year before the excavation of the site is finally completed, but scientists are confident they will unearth an almost complete skeleton from the ground. Picture: Perm Local History Museum

A new expedition to remains of the 'giant elephant' in Okhansky district of Perm region has increased hopes of a highly significant discovery. 

It will be next year before the excavation of the site is finally completed, but scientists are confident they will unearth an almost complete skeleton from the ground, possibly  rivaling those found in Serbia and England. 

'At the moment, we have more than 50 steppe mammoth bones and hope to obtain a fairly full skeleton after we finish the excavations,' said Tatiana Vostrikova, Head of the expedition and deputy director of Perm Local History Museum.  

'We have found parts of the tusks, occipital bones, hyoid bone fragments, a fragment of the right scapula, ribs, vertebrae, jaw, teeth and more.' She added: 'We do not have the exact age of the remains yet, but suppose it to be around 200,000 years old.'

Steppe mammoth


Steppe mammoth


Steppe mammoth

'We have found parts of the tusks, occipital bones, hyoid bone fragments, a fragment of the right scapula, ribs, vertebrae, jaw, teeth and more.' Larisa Zhuzhgova, curator of natural history collection of the Perm Museum cleans the remains. Pictures: Perm Local History Museum

The scientific adviser to the dig, Evgeny Mashchenko, senior researcher of the Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, assesses the age of animal when it perished at about 45. The animals could live to around 60. 

'It was rather a big male, with a body height of about four metres,' said Tatiana Vostrikova. 'We took samples to analyse the types of pollen and composition of ancient diatom algae from different layers. 

'We also took the ground from the layer where we found the bones to search for teeth of small mammals, insectivores and rodents. All this will help us to understand in which climate conditions lived this very mammoth.' 

Originally sighted in 2010, the painstaking probing of the remains has been underway during the summer months from 2013.

'The tusk fragments were found along the coast of Votkinsk reservoir by local fishermen,' she told The Siberian Times. Their attention was drawn to the 'white chips' on the steep cliffs. They reported their find to us.  

'We organised reconnaissance expeditions in 2010 and 2012. The full scale excavations began in 2013. This year we had planned to finish the works at the site, but rainy weather forced us to stop. Excavations in the conditions of high humidity are dangerous for the safety of the bones.'

Steppe mammoth


Steppe mammoth

'It was rather a big male, with a body height of about four metres.' Larisa Zhuzhgova and Evgeny Mashchenko cleaning the findings. Pictures: Perm Local History Museum

The Steppe Mammoth is an extinct species that ranged over most of northern Eurasia during the Middle Pleistocene period, some 600,000-150,000 years ago. 

The beast probably evolved in Siberia during the early Pleistocene from Mammuthus meridionalis. It was the first stage in the evolution of the steppe and tundra elephants and an ancestor of the famed woolly mammoth of later glacial periods. 

Finds of skeletons are rare; more commonly, scientists have found  the single bones of teeth. An almost complete skeleton of a steppe mammoth was discovered in 1996 in Kikinda, Serbia. Around 90% of its bone mass was preserved, but missing were this female's feet and scapulas. 

A male was found in 1990 in West Runton, eastern England, which was about 85% intact, missing the upper part of its skull. 

Evgeny Mashchenko said the latest discovery is 'of great scientific interest' and is expected to be more significant and complete than other skeletons previously found in Russia.

Steppe mammoth


Steppe mammoth

Originally sighted in 2010, the painstaking probing of the remains has been underway during the summer months from 2013. Pictures: Perm Local History Museum

'The Steppe Mammoth was widespread in Eurasia, from Western Europe to Eastern Siberia, including Northern Kazakhstan and North China,' he said. In different periods of the Middle Pleistocene era, the habitat of this species is likely to have varied depending on environmental conditions and climate. 

'It is assumed that they lived in a drier climate than in modern times. It is likely that this species had already formed part of the biological adaptations needed to be able live in a fairly severe winters. That is why it is important to study them, to understand the evolution of mammoth and their adaptation to a harsh cold climate.

'The Steppe Mammoth is the largest elephant that ever existed on earth. Its body height at the shoulders in the largest specimen exceeded four metres and the weight could reach 9-10 tons.' 

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