THE BUTCHERED skeleton of a Stone Age elephant has been unearthed during construction of Ebbsfleet station on Contract 342 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in Kent.
The straight-tusked Palaeoloxodon Antiquus, a species that became extinct in Britain more than 100,000 years ago, was found surrounded by flint tools in a 400,000-year-old early Stone Age site.
Very few elephant remains have been found in Britain and this is the first to indicate butchery of the carcass by early humans.
Completely different from the more widelyknown mammoth, the Palaeoloxodon Antiquus was more than twice the size of the largest modern African elephant.
Bones from other large animals including rhinoceros, buffalo and wild horse were also found nearby. The remains were preserved in sediment by the edge of what was once a small lake.
Oxford Archaeology is carrying out the archaeological investigation on behalf of CTRL project manager Rail Link Engineering (RLE) and its client Union Railways (North).
RLE archaeology manager Helen Glass said:
'This is an amazing discovery. During investigations across the Ebbsfleet Valley we have also found an Anglo-Saxon mill as well as the substantial remains of a Roman town and villa complex.'
The elephant site was discovered late last year by Francis Wenban-Smith of Southampton University through routine archaeological monitoring during construction. The skeleton was discovered in April during detailed excavations.
Wenban-Smith said: 'This is a very exciting find. Only a handful of other elephant remains have been found in Britain and none of these give any indication of human exploitation.
'This would have been a pretty hefty beast, 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 with wooden spears and then butchered with flint tools.
'Manufacture of flint tools at the same spot, which would have been unsuitable for human occupation because of its boggy nature, almost certainly indicates butchery of the carcass for meat, 'Wenban-Smith said.