Ancient Bone Unearthed in Spain Points to Battle Elephant

Ancient Bone Unearthed in Spain: In a thrilling find, archaeologists in southern Spain have recently uncovered a bone that may have belonged to a formidable combatant—an ancient battle elephant.

During excavations on a hill called Los Quemados in the city of Córdoba, researchers stumbled upon the carpal bone of an elephant “of large proportions,” as reported by Spanish news outlet El País.

Although experts have been unable to perform radiocarbon dating to determine an exact timeframe, the bone is believed to date back to the period between the late 4th century B.C. and the middle of the 1st century B.C.

While the discovery was made in 2019, it has been kept confidential until now to allow for further investigation.

Ancient Bone Unearthed in Spain Points to Battle Elephant 1
The trench where the elephant’s bone was found.

Researchers speculate that the area where the bone was found, nestled in the heart of Córdoba, may have witnessed a grand-scale battle involving war elephants. Seventeen projectiles designed for catapults and other weapons have also been unearthed at the site, but it remains uncertain if they are connected to the elephant bone, according to Fernando Quesada, a renowned expert on pre-Roman weapons, as stated by El País.

The exact circumstances of the elephant’s demise, whether in combat or otherwise, remain unknown. It is currently too early to determine the specific ancient conflict in which the elephant may have been involved, although several possibilities exist. One conjecture is that it perished during the Punic Wars, a series of conflicts fought between the Roman Republic and the Empire of Carthage from 264 B.C. to 146 B.C.

During the Second Punic War, the Romans conquered Carthaginian territories in the south and east of the Iberian Peninsula, including Cordoba in 206 B.C. These wars saw Hannibal, a revered military leader of antiquity, commanding Carthaginian forces and inflicting significant defeats on the Romans.

Alternatively, the bone could originate from an elephant deployed in battle during the Roman Republic’s second civil war, which transpired between 49 B.C. and 45 B.C. under the command of Julius Caesar.

Ancient Bone Unearthed in Spain Points to Battle Elephant
A colored engraving from the 19th century depicts the Battle of Zama (202 B.C.) in what is now Tunisia involving a combat elephant.

“Its significance lies in the fact that it is not a tusk, which would have been used for craftsmanship, but a hand bone. It could belong to the period of the Punic Wars. It might even be the first elephant associated with Hannibal to be discovered. We cannot be certain, but it was undoubtedly a substantial creature,” remarked Rafael Martínez, a zoologist and assistant professor of prehistory at the University of Córdoba, as conveyed by El País.

“This discovery holds immense interest due to the scarce remains of elephants from a pre-Roman context in Europe, excluding ivory artifacts, of course,” he added.

Alongside the seventeen catapult projectiles, archaeologists from Arqueobética, the consultancy responsible for the excavations, also uncovered a spear tip.

“However, we lack evidence of a battle or siege having taken place at the site, so the discovery of these warfare items came as a surprise,” explained Agustín López Jiménez, an expert from Arqueobética, as reported by El País.

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