Palaeoloxodon antiquus, known colloquially as the straight-tusked elephant, appeared on Eurasian landscapes 700,000 years ago. It towered above other Pleistocene mammals at 13 feet tall, weighing 15,000 pounds. So what happens when 15,000 pounds of elephant encounters early humans? Dinner, of course.

In 2003, Dr. Francis Wenban-Smith from the University of Southampton happened upon P. antiquus fossils buried alongside flint tools in Ebbsfleet, England. The 80 some tools, says Dr. Wenban-Smith, probably belonged to our early ancestor Homo Heidelbergensis. H. heidelbergensis groups teamed up to conquer large mammals such as elephants for meals.

Near the elephant bones were other pieces of animals, such as lions and rabbits that early humans probably hunted for food. The Ebbsfleet site was perhaps a central meat-cutting site where H. heidelbergensis took slaughtered prey to eat.

How could our ancestors have killed such an enormous animal? There is known evidence that H. heidelbergensis had wooden spears, and a team of hunters armed with such weapons would probably have been able to get the job done.

Read about Dr. Wenban-Smith’s findings in his book The Ebbsfleet Elephant: Excavations at Southfleet Road, Swanscombe in Advance of High Speed 1, 2003-4.

Giant prehistoric elephant slaughtered by early humans. (2013, September 20). University of Southampton.

The Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, New York, is pleased to sponsor Paleontology content for This View of Life. Founded in 1932, PRI has outstanding programs in research, collections, and publications, and is a national leader in development of informal Earth science education resources for educators and the general public.


Published On: November 5, 2013

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