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Bones of primitive elephant species found in Dhofar.

MUSCAT: Remains of Barytherium - a prehistoric elephant species - were found in Aidum area in Dhofar by a team of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, which brought it to Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) for studies.

This is the first instance of the remains of Barytherium being found in Oman. Barytherium (meaning heavy beast), it may be noted, had eight very short tusks, four each in the upper and lower jaws, which resembled those of

a modern hippopotamus more than those of an elephant.

Following the discovery, a group of geologists from SQU including Prof. Dr Sobhi Nasir and Dr Abdulrahman Al Harthy, and Dr Erick Seifert from the Stoony Brook University, US, visited the area in Dhofar and found the elephant bones - known as elephant grabs - spread across a large area, from where they collected large quantities of bones.

A group of researchers from SQU, Stony Brook and the Ministry of Heritage are still working on these bones and they are expecting more discoveries in the area. They said this finding was extremely important as it gives the first evidence of the oldest ancestor of elephant living in this part of the world. They have named it as "Barytherium Omansi" (Omani Barytherium).

Barytherium is a genus of an extinct family (Barytheriidae) of primitive proboscidean that lived during the late Eocene and early Oligocene ages in North Africa.

The Barytheriidae were the first large size proboscideans to appear in the fossil records and were characterised by a strong sexual dimorphism. The only known species within this family were found at the beginning of the 20th century in Fayum, Egypt. More complete specimens have been found since then, at Dor el Talha in Libya. In some respects, these animals looked similar to a modern Asian elephant, but with a

more slender build.

It may be noted, though, that Barytherium was not a direct ancestor to modern elephants; rather, it represented an evolutionary side of mammals, combining elephant-like and hippo-like characteristics.

Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2011

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Date:May 22, 2011
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