Alice C. Linsley
Fossil evidence indicates that the Asian elephant once roamed
Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia,
India, Sumatra, Java, Borneo
and southern China. Elephant tooth and bone fragments found in Turkey, Syria and Lebanon indicate that elephants lived in that region in the latter part of the Bronze Age. These appear to have been wild herds.
Elephant fossils found in Mesopotamia dating to the second millennium BC are thought to be the descendants of a smaller Pleistocene variety found throughout the Mediterranean about 2 million years ago. According to R.W. Rogers, “In very early times the elephant wandered at will over the Middle Euphrates country, but it disappeared before the 13th century.” (A History of Babylonia and Assyria, Vol. 1, p. 284) However, textual evidence suggests that there were still some elephants being used as service animals after the 13th century B.C. Their remarkable trunks provided a powerful gripping organ for lifting and carrying timber and other heavy materials. Sargon would have used elephants to construct his cities and Abraham would have seen them in the region of Haran. Haran is where his father Terah died and his older brother Nahor ascended to the throne.
The current distribution of elephants is greatly reduced compared to the time of Abraham. Today there remain only two species of elephants: the small-eared Indian elephant (Elephas maximus) and the long eared, long-legged African elephant (Loxodonta africana). The Indian elephant has a bowed upper skull. There is a difference also in the number of toes.
An older elephant species was smaller and more hairy. It had very curved, slender tusks and a more rounded head, suggesting a closer relationship to the African elephant. Such a creature appears on the tomb wall of Rekhmire (TT100). Rekhmire was Governor of Thebes during the reigns of Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II. At this time Egypt's empire extended into Syria. A wall painting in Rekhmire's tomb shows Syrians bringing tribute of carts, weapons, horses, a bear, and an elephant.
|Elephant painting in tomb of Rekhmire|
The Rekhmire tomb elephant likely depicts an extinct dwarf elephant with a shaggy coat. It is believed that some were still alive 4000-3500 years ago (Masseti 2001, 2008, Theodorou et al. 2007). This dwarf species is called Elephas tiliensis. It is shown on Rekhmire's tomb and a life-sized model of E. tiliensis is on display at the Palaeontology Museum of Athens.
Elephants in Noah's time
Noah lived approximately 2490-2415 B.C. in the region of Lake Chad, when the Sahara experienced a wet period (Karl W. Butzer 1966). This corresponds to the Old Kingdom, a time of great cultural and technological achievement. This places Noah in relatively recent history, not at the dawn of human existence.
The oldest known zoological collection was found in Sudan during excavations at Hierakonpolis (Nekhen) in 2009. The royal menagerie dates to ca. 3500 BC and included elephants. Proto-Saharan and Nilotic rulers were known to keep ménageries. The animals were kept in pairs so that they would reproduce.
At Nekhen on the Nile (3500 BC) the bones of a juvenile savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) were found in Tomb 14. These date to around 3100 BC and suggest that this elephant was a prized "pet" of the buried ruler.