Scientists in Indonesia are reconstructing the largest, most complete skeleton of a prehistoric giant elephant ever found in the tropics, media reported Tuesday.
The prehistoric elephant is believed to have been submerged in quicksand shortly after dying on a riverbed in Java around 200,000 years ago.
The animal stood four meters tall, was five meters long and weighed more than 10 tons. It was considerably larger than the great Asian mammals now on Earth, and closely resembled the mammoth of the same period in terms of size.
Its bones — almost perfectly preserved — were discovered by chance in March. A team of seven paleontologists from the Geology Museum in Bandung, West Java, set the bones in plaster for the trip back to their office after a monthlong excavation.
"We believe from the shape of its teeth that it was a very primitive elephant," but little else has been verified, said paleontologist Fachroel Aziz, who is heading a 12-strong skeletal reconstruction team.
Scientists agree it is the first time an entire prehistoric elephant skeleton has been unearthed since vertebrate fossil findings began to be recorded in Indonesia in 1863.
The next challenge will be removing the delicate bones from their molds and joining them into a stable, upright structure, a process that experts said is already being hampered by a lack of funding, inadequate tools and poor expertise.
Gert van den Berg, a researcher at Australia's Wollongong University, said that tests are under way to determine its precise age and species, and it will provide details "about when the modern elephants evolved into what they are now."