Elephas tiliensis from the island of Tilos

The excavation of the Chardakio cave that started in 1972 led to the discovery of 15.000 bones belonging to some 45 elephants. The Tilos elephants were relatively small (their height did not exceed 190 cms) being roughly 50% smaller than their cousin the continental Εlephas antiquus (Paleoloxodon). Following years of intensive studies this unique species has taken on the name Elephas tiliensis,  since it has unique characteristics clearly differing from other  species of elephants found in Sicily, Cyprus and Crete.  The dwarf elephants lived isolated on the island of Tilos having presumably colonized the island by way either of Kos-Nisyros or Rhodes although no similar elephants have as of yet been identified on those islands thereby corroborating that thesis. Initially, researchers assumed that two types of elephants were present in the cave but further analysis of the animals' morphology and a number of biometrical studies led to the conclusion that the two skeletal types found corresponded to the male and female of the same species.

The presence of these elephants dates back to 45.000 years Before Present time (BP) until probably 4.000 to 3.500 BP. There are no clear indications as to the reasons for their sudden extinction although it is assumed that a number of factors could have played a role: 1/ climate change leading to a shrinkage of available space 2/ reduction of fertile, flat coastal areas 3/ possible influence of the volcanic eruption of Santorini which would have led to the pollution of all the water by volcanic tuff and the destruction of nearly all the vegetation for at least a year 4/ Possible human presence and therefore hunting of the elephant population. A number of other remains such as the Tilos deer (dating back to 140.000 BP) and some bird bones (that have not yet been studied) have also been found in the cave, but have not been helpful in drawing any conclusions relating to the life of the local elephant population since they precede the Εlephas tiliensis. Furthermore, no conclusive proof of human presence coinciding with that of the elephants has been established, therefore casting some doubt on the theory of human involvement in the extinction of the local elephant population.

Reference: Elephas tiliensis n.sp. from Tilos island (Dodecanese, Greece) by George Theodorou, Nikolaos Symeonidis & Elizabeth Stathopoulou

Aknowledgement: I would like to thank Professor Dr. George E. Theodorou for his help and guidance as well as for providing me with the necessary material to write this post.

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