Stegodons are the cousins of the modern elephant, and this particular tusk is thought to be 1.1 million years old.
A team of scientists in Pakistan made the discovery in the central province of Punjab. The ancient, unique tusk could help researchers to find out more about how the prehistoric mammal evolved, writes Alyssa Navarro for Tech Times.
Pakistan plays host to amazing scientific discovery
At 96 inches in length and 8 inches in diameter, it is the largest tusk ever discovered in Pakistan. It was discovered by a team of scientists from the zoology department at the University of Punjab. The team were on an expedition in the Padri district at the time of the find.
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“The research scholars of [the] zoology department have long been working at Pabbi of Rajo, Kharian and Sahawa and discovered a number of ancient fossils,” Professor Muhammad Akthar, a zoology professor at the university, told Dawn.
“This discovery adds to our knowledge about the evolution of the stegodon, particularly in this region,” said Professor Akhtar, lead researcher of the excavation. Akhtar said that the researchers are now able to work out what the environment was like at the time when the stegodon plodded the Earth.
According to paleontologist Gerrit Van Den Bergh, Ph.D., of the University of Wollongong, Australia, the exact age of the tusk is not yet known. Scientists still need to conduct more research, he said. Van Den Bergh is a stegodon expert who has been a part of many projects in Pakistan and around the world.
“If you have a complete tusk, that’s quite special,” said Van Den Bergh. “They are quite rare.”
More research needed to determine exact age of tusk
The first attempt at finding out the age of the tusk was made through a radioactive dating technique which uses uranium and lead, according to researchers.
Scientists believe that stegodons walked the Earth around 11 million years ago until the late Pleistocene period, which was over by around 11,700 years ago. Its most distinctive features are its long tusks, that were nearly straight, and teeth with a low crown and peaked ridges.
Researchers say that these factors show that stegodons were mixed feeders, and lived in forested environments. However elephants and mammoths, with their high-crowned plated molars, were able to graze as a result of the structure of their teeth.
Did modern humans spell the end of the stegodon?
Previous research suggests that stegodons were strong swimmers. It is believed that they arrived from Africa and spread rapidly throughout Asia. To this day most of the stegodon fossils in the world have been found in Asia.
“They are mostly an Asian species but remains have been found further afield. Recently a molar fragment was discovered in Greece,” said Van Den Bergh.
According to Van Den Bergh, there were still large numbers of stegodons on Earth around 1.2 million years ago. They went extinct around the same time that modern humans made their emergence, he said. It is not known whether men hunted stegodons, but it is certainly a possibility.
The tusk constitutes an exciting scientific discovery that with further study could provide some serious insight into the evolution of the mammal, and the world in which it lived. The story of this particular tusk looks set to develop further, so keep your eyes out for updates.