Credit: Misko Korac
The excavation for coal at an open pit mine in Serbia and heavy torrential rain has yielded what is believed to be the world's first collective graveyard of a herd of mammoths.
Heavy torrential rain earlier this week revealed the remains of what could be up to six mammoths, at an open pit mine in Kostolac, east of Belgrade not far from a site where two other mammoth remains were uncovered in recent years.
According to Miomir Korac, director of the Archeological Project Viminacium, which is named after the Roman provincial capital along the Danube River, the discovery came as a complete surprise. The archeologists were first alerted to one set of giant remains of a mammoth that was damaged by the chewing of the mining machinery. But then rain fell, rinsing away the yellow sand.
Korac's team will now use infrared screening to get a better idea of what lies below the surface and check if there are additional mammoth bones. "We will use all tools possible including tooth picks to scrape sand from the teeth, which could answer the epoch of the mammoths," said Nemanja Mrdjic, an archeologist of the team digging at the site.
Korac explained that the location covers an area of some 20.000 square meters on what could have been an island in the Pannonian Sea, which today is the most fertile land of Hungary, northern Serbia and Croatia.
The first prehistoric skeleton was found at this site in 2009. The bones belonged to a female mammoth that has been named Vika. Another mammoth skeleton, from a much later period, was discovered at a factory in Serbia in 1996 and was named Kika.
These particular creatures lived from 100,000 years ago to as long as one million years ago, Serbian and international scientist estimated after their excavation.
"This is a rare global treat because no such place exists elsewhere in the world," said Korac by phone from Paris, where he is consulting on the discovery. He added that international paleozoologists, paleontologists and archaeologists are likely to participate in the work to learn about life on earth millions of years ago.
"It's the luck of science," said Mrdjic. "The location of the fossil, mostly held in loose sand, that is not very cemented is also a stroke of luck."