Prof M. Akhtar examines tusks of an extinct species of the elephant family. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Prof M. Akhtar examines tusks of an extinct species of the elephant family. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

JHELUM: For the first time, researchers have found a pair of intact fossilised tusks that dates back approximately three million years.

“This discovery is a grand prize. We have never found a pair of tusks, intact with upper and some part of the lower jaws,” said Prof M. Akhtar from the zoology department of the Punjab University, Lahore.

Over six feet long, the pair belongs to anancus, an extinct species from the elephant family that walked on the earth roughly three to 1.5 million years ago.

Prof Akhtar, who is heading the team of zoology students at the excavation site about 50 kilometres from Dina near the Padri village, explained how museums were full of fossilised tusks, rhino horns and crocodile teeth but complete skeletons have never been found.

“Finding complete skeletons are almost impossible because of heavy seismic activities in the region that shift the earth and whatever is buried underneath with it such as fossilised bones,” Prof Akhtar elaborated.

This unique discovery was made a month after the same team found the tusk of a 1.1 million years old stegodon, also from the elephant family that is now extinct. The stegodon tusk was discovered 113 kilometres from this site in Rajo, Gujrat.

Prof Akhtar explained how both anancus and stegodon descended from the same ancestor – gomphothere.

“By the time anancus was becoming extinct, the stegodon was flourishing. So far evidence suggests that mammoths, now also extinct, and modern-day African and Asian elephants have descended from the stegogon,” he added.

However, the tusks of the anancus were first found by a student of zoology in Punjab University about three years ago.

A part exposed, the tusks remained buried until February 16, 2016, when the university got sufficient funds to support the excavation.

Unfortunately, vandals have also been attracted to the new find. Three days ago, they tried to steal the fossils.

“We can see signs of illegal digging. They have stolen the four inches long tip of the left tusk. Luckily, no major damage was done. Now the 6.5 feet long tusk is four inches shorter,” said PhD and research scholar Sayyad Ghyour Abbas, who first found the fossil some 50 kilometres from Dina near the Padri village.

According to Assistance Prof Zoology Department, PU, Dr Abdul Majid, the exact date of the fossil will be determined after laboratory tests.

“After studying the rock formations in the region, the relative age of the fossils can be put at roughly three million years old,” said the expert.

Evidence suggests that this region was home to numerous species, Dr Majid said.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2016