Fossils of a mastodon, a huge prehistoric ancestor of today's elephant, were discovered in a gold mine in central Colombia.
Miners working in a tunnel near the town of Quinchia in central-western Risaralda province discovered the remains, including an intact tusk over a meter long.
While mastodon fossils have been found in other parts of Colombia, these are the first to be found in Risaralda and could mean more discoveries are waiting nearby.
"More (remains) have been found," Julio Gomez, director of Risaralda's regional environmental agency, told Reuters. "These animals lived in herds, they didn't live alone, a bit like the herds of elephants we see in Africa today."
It has traditionally been believed that mastodons became extinct due to overhunting by early humans. However, recent analysis suggests that they may have succumbed to rapid climate change.
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Fossil remains of a mastodon found by miners in a gold mine in Risaralda, Colombia. While mastodon fossils have been found in other parts of the country, these are the first in Risaralda and could mean more discoveries are waiting nearby
Mastodon remains have also been found in the provinces of Cundinamarca and Valle del Cauca, as well as along the Colombian Atlantic coast.
The miners in Quinchia asked anthropologists to examine the fossils, which included an intact tusk 3.5 feet long.
"These animals attract attention because of their size – a giant bone doesn't go unnoticed," anthropologist Carlos Lopez told Reuters. "We really need a time machine … to think about how they were and how they lived and whether people lived next to them."
It's the latest discovery about the massive mammals in recent weeks.
A complete mammoth tusk 3.5 feet long was among the fossils found by the miners
A miner points out mastodon fossils. "These animals attract attention because of their size – a giant bone doesn't go unnoticed," said anthropologist Carlos Lopez
Miners working in a tunnel near the town of Quinchia in central-western Risaralda province discovered the remains on Tuesday
On August 29, a Missouri teenager reported finding a fossilized mastodon tooth the size of a human hand.
Eighteen-year-old Ira Johnson initially believed he had found a "big rock" in the river near his home.
Researchers who analyzed the remains said they belonged to an American mastodon that lived about 10,000 years ago during the Pleistocene.
A study in the September issue of Nature Communications showed that mastodons traveled long distances north due to climate change.
In late August, a mastodon tooth the size of a human hand was discovered in Missouri. Eighteen-year-old Ira Johnson initially believed he had found a "big rock" in the river near his home
Mastodons migrated from present-day Alaska east to Nova Scotia and south to central Mexico.
During the temperate periods, mastodons traveled north to feed on vegetation.
But as the temperatures got colder and large glaciers spread out from the tip of the continent, the creatures retreated south.
This was a continuous cycle during the irregular cold periods of the Pleistocene, which extended from 2.5 million to 11,700 years ago.
Mastodons were among the largest land animals on earth at that time. They reached ten feet in length and weighed eight tons or more.
Artist's impression of the extinct American mastodon (right) and the first complete American mastodon skeleton in the United States, on display at the American Museum of Natural History. American mastodons migrated long distances across North America in response to dramatic climate change
The species became extinct around 11,000 years ago towards the end of the Pleistocene, along with other megafauna such as mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and giant ground sloths.
While it was traditionally believed that mastodons roamed the Arctic and Subarctic when they were covered with ice caps, scientists now believe that the animals had a much greater range and only traveled north when the climate was warm and their preferred habitat – forests and wetlands – were plentiful with leaf fodder.
A 2014 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found mastodons were threatened with local extinction several tens of millennia before human colonization. The earliest estimate is between 13,000 and 14,000 years ago.
Why did the mastodon become extinct?
Radiocarbon dating of North American fossils suggests mastodons became extinct before humans could hunt them to extinction.
People have long been accused of threatening extinction, the American mastodon – an ancient relative of the elephant.
Experts still aren't sure why the animals went extinct, but now they think that changing habitats from forests to tundra may have played a role.
According to the new international study, the Arctic and Subarctic were only temporary homes for mastodons when the climate was warm
However, new data suggests that mastodons became extinct in the pockets of eastern Beringia about 75,000 years ago after the habitat changed from forest to tundra.
Mastodons occupied high latitudes 125,000 to 75,000 years ago when they were covered with forests.
However, ecological changes resulted in habitat loss and population collapse.
After that, mastodons were limited to areas south of the continental ice sheet, where they were completely extinct over 10,000 years before crossing the Bering Strait – or the beginning of Pleistocene climate change.
The study states that local mastodon extinction was independent; of their later extinction south of the ice.
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