Charkadio cave is the most important place around the world in terms of abundance of palaeontological material of dwarf elephants that lived in Europe. The excavations, by the Department of Historical Geology and Palaeontology of University of Athens, started in 1971 and continue until today (Symeonides 1972, Bachmayer et al. 1976, 1984, Theodorou 1983, 1984, 1988, Theodorou et al. 1997) and have brought to light a very rich fauna of endemic fossil dwarf elephants.
In particular, the professor of Geology and Palaeontology N. Symeonidis, from the University of Athens, visited Tilos in November 1971 in order to study the human bones and skulls that existed in Saint Antonios’ gulf. These relics came from humans who were buried in the coastal sand during the Historical years. During his visit in the caves of the island, he discovered more than 15.000 fossil bones of more than 40 dwarf elephants, which were of 120-150 cm height and belong to the species Palaeoloxodon Antiquus Falconeri BUSK.
The elephants lived on the island during the last 50.000 years and they disappeared 3.700 years ago. These dates reveal that they are the last elephants in Europe. Their discovery was judged particularly important from a palaeontological and geological point of view.
Apart from dwarf elephant fossils, the fossils and bones of other mammals, such as deer, turtles and micro-mammals, as well as splinters from tusks that were possibly used as tools, were found in Charkadio cave. Recent excavations conducted in July 2000 and July 2001, revealed for the first time the remains of dwarf elephants’ skeletons and specifically former and ulterior legs and vertebras coming from young and adult animals.
An important factor that contributed to the evolution, as well as to the disappearance of dwarf elephants, seems to be the important fluctuations of the island size during the Pleistocene that was mainly attributed to the sea level changes and volcanoes.
The excavations that have been conducted until now have produced approximately 10.000 parts of dwarf elephants’ skeletons. This material constitutes only 30% and the rest of it still exists inside the cave. The excavations haven’t stopped and it is expected that the findings will be important and unusual in the Aegean.
Source: Municipality of Tilos, www.tilos.gr