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The Enigmatic Elephants of Hannibal’s Alps Journey: A Beacon of Hope for Their Descendants


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The remains of extinct elephants, thought to be the same species that the Carthaginian warlord Hannibal is known to have used to cross the Alps, provide evidence to help preserve their modern relatives.

Ivory of a mysterious type was found at the wreck of a Phoenician ship that sank off the coast of Spain more than 2,500 years ago.

The ship is believed to have been carrying luxury items from the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa when it ran aground off the Pago de la Campana, near Cartagena (Cartagena or Carthage) in the Murcia region of southeastern Spain, which was built by Hasdrubal the Carthaginian . Hannibal’s younger brother.

Part of the ill-fated ship’s cargo drifted into a sea cave, where it was discovered by a team of archaeologists in 2007.

Among these lost treasures, including pottery, bronze, copper and tin ingots, and nuggets of ores and gems, were elephant tusks.

“If the ship is sailing from North Africa, the ivory could represent a population of North African elephants that went extinct sometime during Roman times,” evolutionary biologist Dr Patricia Penerova of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark told Horizon.

“In fact, we don’t know anything about these elephants at all, as there are very few historical records,” she added.

However, it is suspected that these were the same elephants that the Carthaginian general Hannibal led through the Alps to attack Roman Italy in 218 BC. during the Second Punic War.

Experts believe that North African elephants probably had a range that covered land north of the Sahara desert, possibly along the east coast to Sudan and Eritrea, but it was not clear for a long time which species they belonged to.

“Some think they might have been African bush elephants based on what matters most biologically. But others say they could have been small, so they could have been African forest elephants,” Dr. Penerova said.

And these are not the only theories, as some experts believe that Hannibal’s creatures could be Asian elephants, and some even suggest a separate species.

The scientists noted that the remains of the Bajo de la Campana shipwreck provide a rare opportunity to streamline publicly available data on these extinct elephants and determine their origin.

Dr. Penerova added: “The ivory shipwreck is a window into the past. We are looking at elephants as they were 2,500 years ago, before many people faced today’s pressures.”

In her study, which is part of the EU-funded STAMPEDE project, Dr. Pinerova mapped the genetic diversity of current elephants from across Africa, providing a benchmark that now allows comparison of ancient DNA extracted from Pago de la Campana ivory.

However, the study is not only of historical significance, as Dr. Penerova explained that the tools developed during the study can also be applied to analyze the genetic diversity of living elephants and contribute to conservation efforts.

What’s more, studying ancient tusks could help scientists discover the genetic diversity of elephants before humans start hunting them en masse and destroying their habitat.

While some species are able to survive low levels of genetic diversity, conservation programs may need to be fine-tuned to focus on increasing this diversity.

Source: Express

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