straight-tusked elephant
A nearly complete skeleton of the extinct straight-tusked elephant having cut marks found in Greece suggest that the animal was slaughtered at a prehistoric butchering site Apotea/Wikimedia Commons

A new paleolithic site discovered in Megalopolis, Greece, has turned out to be a prehistoric place for butchering elephants, archaeologists have revealed. The site named Marathousa 1 was first excavated in 2013 and is believed to date back to a Middle Pleistocene age, about 300,000 to 600,000 years ago from the present.

Earlier excavation at the site uncovered several well-preserved skeletal remains thought to be of an individual elephant. These include a femur, ribs, vertebrae and tusk fragments. Bones were found to bear cut marks and several stone tools, which researchers believe might have been used by early hunters to cut the meat from the bones, were also discovered.

Researchers now have evidence that all the fossil parts actually belong to a nearly complete skeleton of Elephas antiquus, the extinct species of the straight-tusked elephant.

"The association of lithic artefacts with the elephant remains, as well as the discovery of cut marks on elephant bones, indicate that Marathousa 1 is an elephant butchering site," professor Katerina Harvati from the University of Tubingen who co-led the excavation said in a statement.

"That makes Megalopolis the only site in the Balkans where we have evidence of an elephant being butchered in the early Paleolithic," she said. Researchers also found "exceptionally" well-preserved remains of rodents, birds, amphibians, reptiles, molluscs and insects apart from wood, seeds and fruit at the site, which is the first Middle Pleistocene archaeological site ever to be excavated in Greece.

Harvati said Marathousa 1 provides insight on the involvement of early humans in the exploitation of animal resources. The region is also considered one of the most likely routes for human migration into Europe.

"Despite this crucial geographic position, Paleoanthropological and Paleolithic research has been under-represented in the region due to a traditional focus on later prehistory and Classical times. As a result, very little information exists on the Lower Paleolithic of Greece," she said. "Marathousa 1 is of paramount importance for the understanding of human dispersal patterns into Europe, as well as the adaptations and behaviour of early humans in the region," Harvati added.