Paleontologists in Florida have uncovered an ancient, 5.5 million-year-old elephant graveyard, according to a press release from the Florida Museum in late May.
Scientists working at the Montbrook Fossil dig in northern Florida uncovered the bodies of at least one adult and seven juvenile gomphotheres, an extinct relative of the elephant, all within the same ancient riverbed region, according to the May 30 press release. At present, it is assumed each of the animals died hundreds of years apart.
“Modern elephants travel in herds and can be very protective of their young, but I don’t think this was a situation in which they all died at once,” collection manager at the Florida Museum, Rachel Narducci, said in the release. “It seems like members of one or multiple herds got stuck in this one spot at different times.”
The adult specimen uncovered at the site is thought to have been roughly eight feet tall, with a skull measuring more than nine feet in length, tusks included. 3D video shared from the dig site reveals the enormous debris field, located roughly 45 minutes from Gainesville, Florida.
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Images of the dig were also shared on Twitter, featuring the paleontologists at the site, which gives a little more scale to the discovery. (RELATED: Baby Elephant Interrupts Kenyan Reporter And Immediately Becomes A Star)
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime find,” the Florida Museum’s curator of vertebrate paleontology, Jonathan Bloch, said of the discovery. “It’s the most complete gomphothere skeleton from this time period in Florida and among the best in North America.”
Gomphotheres and other elephant species are believed to have first originated in Africa, and migrated to North America around 16 million years ago. The last gomphotheres likely disappeared around the end of the last Ice Age, along with most other megafauna, according to the release.