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The Racos Mastodon

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The Racos Mastodon: a complete skeleton of Anancus arvernensis.


It is Monday 26 May 2008, at the Racos lignite mine near Baraolt in Transylvania (Romania), when a bulldozer driver finds something very remarkable while working. He is digging through tough clay, which must have been deposited in a lake between two and three million years ago. He uses the blade to excavate down through the clay, scooping it away and dropping it a bit further away. Dozens of meters of sand and clay deposits have to be removed to expose the lignite, which is used as fossil fuel. He is now digging at exactly 29 meters below the surface. Suddenly he sees some dark irregularities in the light gray sediments.

The bulldozer blade has partly crushed the skull of a large animal. Scattered pieces of bone are laying around, along with fragments that he recognizes as coming from a tusk. But it seems that the damage is not too extensive. With some small tools he tries to remove the remaining clay, but that isnít easy. Not only is the clay dry and therefore very hard, but also the skull appears to grow larger and larger, requiring more and more clay be scraped away.

The skull and mandible are still connected with clay, but still in anatomical order, neatly on top of each other. Unfortunately, the tusks are broken, due to the initial hit of the digging machine, but the roots are still in the alveoli. The skull is relatively large and the diameter of the tusks at pulp cavity is 0.14 m. From behind the skull, the molars can be seen in situ. The skeleton has been identified as belonging to Anancus arvernensis. In this case, the animal has the last molars still in the jaws, the M3ís for the upper jaw and m3ís for the lower jaw. Also, the morphology of the skull in general shows characteristics typical for the Mastodon of the Auvergne, especially the tusk socket, short, sturdy, pointing forwards and slightly downwards.

Given the diameter of the tusk and the relatively large size of the skull, it is determined that the animal must have been a male mastodon, a bull. Itís also possible to do an educated guess as to the age of the animal when it died from the wearing down of the molars. These are roughly comparable to the molars of the renowned Torino mastodon in Torino Italy. Hence the age at death, some 2-3 million years ago, should have been around 40 years.

The skeleton is entirely complete: the large bones of the limbs like the femurs and
tibias but also all bones of the feet and there are quite a few, including the toe
bones and the small bones like the sesamoids. Everything appears to be complete.
The ¨first time ever that something like this has been found. Also very special
is the series of tail vertebrae, the ¨first one at the root is still considerably sturdy but
the consecutive vertebrae decrease rapidly in size toward the end while they lose
their shape; even the last one is there, small and rather shapeless.

All remains are petrified or also called Ďmineralizedí and in perfect state, with the exception of the tusks that lost the encounter with the bulldozer. However, the advantage of this damage is that the profile of the ivory can be seen so the smallest details can be studied. Also, the limb bones reveal that the Racos mastodon was not particularly large, despite the size of the skull. The shoulder height is tentatively estimated to have been about 2.40 m, which is not below the average for this species. Itís also confirmed that this skeleton is the only one so far from Anancus arvernensis, that has been recovered completely.

In 2009, together with Dick Mol and others I had the opportunity to photograph the remains of the so-called Racos mastodon.
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