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Just a few tens of thousands of years ago - a blip in evolutionary terms - elephants roamed across the Mediterranean. Coincidentally, one of the most recent examples of fossilised tracks of the straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) was found in Alentejo, in the same region as Pangea.

Now extinct, the species is related to the African elephant. They were enormous, standing at 3–4.2 metres in height, and an estimated 4.5–15 tonnes in weight. They had very wide heads carrying extremely long tusks. Today, the largest land mammal is the African elephant, which stands around 3.3 metres at the shoulder and weighs up to seven tonnes.

In a paper published in 2016, Carlos Neto De Carvalho and colleagues discuss the vertebrate tracks discovered in an outcrop in South-West Alentejo, stating that the elephant tracks are particularly important because it is the first record of elephant footprints in the Pleistocene era in mainland Europe. It may represent some of the latest occurrences of Elephas antiquus before its final extinction, less than 40,00 years ago.

Older elephant tracks have also been found in the Vale do Tejo region of Portugal. Fascinating stuff!


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