A fossilized elephant tusk at least 100,000 years old has been discovered on the seafloor off the Sicilian coast, according to a survey of underwater archaeologists.
Discovered during a series of archaeological dives in the waters off Torretta Granitola, a village on the island's southwestern coast, the tusk is more than 3 feet long.
"It was found embedded on the sea bottom in Pleistocene alluvional deposits," the Superintendency of Maritime Cultural Heritage of Sicily said in a statement.
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In the same area, Giampaolo Mirabile, a local diver, found some years ago two molar teeth belonging to the dwarf elephant Palaeoloxodon mnaidriensis, or Elephas Mnaidriensis, a species that roamed Sicily between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.
"The tusk' size confirms the previous finding and points to the same extinct species," Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily's superintendent of the Sea Office, said.
Tusa, who dived to the site with Giampaolo Mirabile, Gaetano Lino and Alessandro Urbano, also noticed what appeared like elephant footprints near the tusk.
"It's clear now that the elephant's disarticulated remains are spread in a limited area, embedded in a pebble conglomerate which is the result of alluvional deposits," Tusa said.
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Not far from the fossil find, the archaeologist also discovered numerous lumps of flint. Since the flints lay at a depth of about 13 feet, it is possible they represents the remains of a ship and its cargo.
But there might be a more likely explanation.
"Flint was used in the manufacture of tools since the most remote prehistory, mostly in Paleolithic and Neolithic times," Tusa said.
"Most likely, that site now covered by water was once a prehistoric settlement. It was later destroyed by the (rising) sea level," Tusa said.
Image: Fossiized elephant tusk embedded on the seafloor off the Sicilian coast. Credit: Soprintendenza del Mare della Regione Siciliana.