Photo: archaeologists believe the find is one of the first to indicate butchery of a carcass by stone-age hunters. Picture courtesy: Oxford Archaeology/CTRL.
Construction work for the Ebbsfleet station on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in north Kent has unearthed a 400,000 year old Early Stone Age site.
The major find is the skeleton of an elephant surrounded by flint tools lying undisturbed where they were originally discarded.
Experts from Oxford Archaeology have identified the skeleton as that of a straight-tusked Palaeoloxodon antiquus – an extinct species last present in Britain more than 100,000 years ago.
The find represents one of the first to indicate butchery of a carcass by stone-age hunters who lived by chasing the great Stone-Age animals.
"This is a very exciting find," explained Dr Francis Webourn Smith the archaeologist from Southampton University who made the discovery. "Only a handful of other elephant remains have been found in Britain and none of these give any indication of human exploitation,"
The elephants, which were different from the more widely-known woolly mammoths, were over twice the size of the largest modern African elephant.
Photo: the Stone-Age elephant would have been three or four times the weight of an average family car. Picture courtesy: Oxford Archaeology/CTRL
"This would have been a pretty hefty beast," added Dr Wenban-Smith. "It would have been three or four times the weight of an average family car. It is hard to imagine early humans successfully hunting a healthy specimen but if it was already trapped in the bog, it could have been killed by early humans with wooden spears and then butchered for its meat with flint tools."
Bones from other large animals including rhinoceros, buffalo and wild horse have also been found nearby. The remains were preserved in muddy sediment near what was then the edge of a small lake.
Helen Glass, Archaeology Manager for Rail Link Enginering said: "This find is an amazing discovery. During pre-construction investigations across the Ebbsfleet Valley we found an Anglo-Saxon mill as well as the substantial remains of a Roman town and villa complex. We thought we had found everything but it seems that the best has been saved until last."
The site has produced a wide range of evidence about the pre-historic climate and the local environment. Among the many remains are the remnants of sticklebacks, frogs, newts and aquatic molluscs and several pollen grains.
The ancient tusker, along with other remains from the site, will be taken away to the Natural History Museum where scientists will study them to see what else the remarkable finds will reveal.