Proboscidean Fossils: Elephants, Mammoths & kin | Darwin and Wallace: A Nature & Fossil Store

Proboscidean Fossils: Elephants, Mammoths & kin


       The long nose, or "proboscis," is the feature that gives name to the Proboscidean clade. These animals are a diverse group of mammals that includes elephants and their extinct cousins, such as the Woolly Mammoth and Mastodon. The earliest Proboscidean known is a small, dog-sized creature called Eritherium, which is known from the Paleocene epoch of Morocco, approximately 60 million years ago. From the Paleocene forward, most Proboscideans were amphibious, hippo-like creatures, only truly becoming more terrestrial in the late Oligocene epoch. The Miocene brought forth a great radiation of many exotic and enormous Proboscideans, such as the Deinotheres, with their downward pointing tusks protruding the lower jaw, and the long-jawed Gomphotheres with their shovel-like tusks, also protruding from the lower jaw. The end of the Miocene epoch also produced the Elephantids, which gave rise to the first mammoths and modern elephants soon afterwards in the Pliocene. Today's Proboscideans are survived by only three remaining species of elephant. The last Proboscideans to go extinct were the mammoths, of which the last ones known succumbed to extinction on Wrangel Island, just off of Siberia, approximately 3,600 years ago. Like its clade's namesake, the elephant is easily distinguished by its long trunk, which is used for breathing, lifting, sound production, and can even be employed as a snorkel. Their immense ivory tusks are actually a pair of elongated incisors, and can be used for digging, defense, and moving objects. An elephant's intelligence has been documented as one of the greatest in the animal kingdom, and they have shown a range of emotions (such as empathy). Elephants, though mostly wild, have also been used by humans as working animals since the Indus Valley civilization, approximately 1,300-3,300 BCE.

Click on the images below to see the incredible fossils we offer in our Proboscidean selection: