Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Did dwarf elephants survive until the Bronze Age?

Earlier I wrote about the Cretan Dwarf Mammoth and the Cypriot Dwarf Elephant that once roamed the Mediterranean islands. On a beautifully decorated tomb wall of Rekh-mi-Re, vizier during the reigns of Thutmosis III and Amenhotep II (from about 1470 to 1445 BC), we can find a strange image: a small, tusked, hairy elephant, shown as being waist-high to the accompanying people[1].
[Part of Rekh-mi-Re's tomb]
Suppose that the elephant in Rekh-mi-Re's tomb is a depiction of one of the dwarf Mediterranean island-dwelling species. Most of the dwarf Mediterranean elephants were Pleistocene animals that were long extinct by the time of the Pharoahs, but one researcher noted that a population of dwarfed elephants (Elephas tiliensis) seems to have lingered on in isolation on the Greek island of Tilos (located between Rhodes and Kos)[2].
[Detail of image above]
Radiocarbon dating of the Tilos Dwarf Elephants apparently puts some of them as recent as about 4300 years old (+/- 600 years), meaning that they overlapped with the presence of Bronze Age people on the island[2]. If we stretch the dates to its absolute maximum, we get 4300 minus 600 minus 2017 is 1683 BC. As Rekh-mi-Re died around 1445 BC, we're still around 240 years short, but maybe the artist pictured a dwarf elephant as it was known to exist.

Therefore, the remote possibility exists that one or more of these dwarf elephants from Tilos were captured by ancient Aegeans and then traded between Aegeans, Near Eastern people and Egyptians – in fact, trade was already occurring between these regions during the late Bronze Age. This sequence of events might be the answer as to why an image dwarf elephant appears on a wall in a tomb of Rekh-mi-Re

[1] Rosen: Mammoths in ancient Egypt? in Nature – 1994
[2] Masseti: Did endemic dwarf elephants survive on Mediterranean islands up to protohistorical times? in La terra degli Elefanti – 2001. See here.

No comments:

Post a Comment