Illustration for article titled Is this a pygmy mammoth painted on an Egyptian tomb wall?

A curious, large-tusked elephantine creature appears in the tomb of Rekhmire, an Egyptian vizier who died sometime between 1479-1401 BCE. Could this creature be an extinct pygmy mammoth from the Mediterranean or simply the creative license of a temple artist?


Over at Tetrapod Zoology, Darren Naish notes that there's the outside possibility that the Rekhmire creature could be an extinct pygmy mammoth from the Greek isles instead of a dwarf or juvenile elephant. Granted, it's unlikely, but mini-mammoths could have been living on Mediterranean islands around the time of Rekhmire's death:

In 1994, Baruch Rosen published a brief article in Nature in which he drew attention to the small, tusked, hairy elephant in the painting, shown as being waist-high to the accompanying people. The people next to the elephant seem to be Syrian traders, carrying objects including tusks [...] African elephants Loxodonta and the now extinct Middle Eastern population of the Asian elephant Elephas maximus were both known to the ancient Egyptians, but Rekhmire's elephant doesn't seem to be either. Its apparent hairiness, convex back and domed head make it look like a juvenile Asian elephant, but then why it is shown with huge tusks?

[...This is] perhaps a depiction of one of the pygmy Mediterranean island-dwelling species. Most of the dwarf Mediterranean elephants were Pleistocene animals that were long gone by the time of the Pharoahs, but [Marco] Masseti (2001) noted that a population of dwarfed elephants seem to have lingered on in isolation on the Greek island of Tilos (located between Rhodes and Kos) [...] Some of the extinct Mediterranean dwarf elephants are now suspected of being dwarf mammoths (as in, members of Mammuthus) rather than species of Elephas/Palaeoloxodon and, in life, these animals would indeed have looked more like the hairy, dome-skulled animal in Rekhmire's tomb.


If this were to be true, I guess it makes 10,000 BC slightly less historically bankrupt (but not by much, Red Sonja was a more veracious study of ancient peoples). You can read the rest of Naish's intriguing assessment of the Rekhmire tomb beast at Tetrapod Zoology, and here's the strange tale of a stegosaurus appearing on a Cambodian temple wall.

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