If you could go back in time 325,000 years or more, the Nafud Desert of Saudi Arabia would have been quite a different place. Instead of being a stifling hot sea of wind-whipped sand, everything was lush and green, and giant elephants -- about twice the size of today’s behemoths -- bathed in lakes and lived comfortably. We know this because a team led by Oxford University archeologists found a giant tusk belonging to Elephas recki, an extinct species of elephant, remarkably preserved and embedded in an ancient lake.
The shifting sands of time:
- Researchers uncovered the animal's remains in northwestern Saudi Arabia in 2014, and the excavations are ongoing. They have noted evidence of “7,000 (dried-up) lake beds on the peninsula, mostly in Saudi Arabia.”
- Scientists estimate that these prehistoric elephants weighed 13,000 to 15,400 pounds (5,897 to 6,985 kg), roughly twice the size of a modern African elephant. They estimate its height at about 11.8 feet (more than 3.6 m) at the shoulder.
- In the same sand layer as the tusk, researchers found the remains of an extinct jaguar, an oryx, and a member of the horse family -- as well as stone tools indicating the presence of early humans.