Raphia and my first major Elephant confrontation:


Short lesson. Read the bloody rules.

Noteworthy New Science note:

Myth of the African vs Asian elephant



In reality, Asian elephants are smaller than African elephants, so some historians speculated that perhaps the Ptolemies were using African forest elephants, which tend to be smaller, Roca said.

So Roca and his colleagues conducted a thorough genetic analysis of the elephants found in Eritrea, the descendants of the losers in the ancient battle.

“We showed using pretty much every genetic marker, that they were savanna elephants,” Roca told LiveScience. “This was contrary to some speculation that there may be forest elephants present in that part of the world.”

The team also found that there were just 100 to 200 African elephants left in isolated pockets in Eritrea, which could make them susceptible to inbreeding in the future.

Ancient myths

The findings suggest that Polybius had it wrong, and the African elephants got spooked for some other reason than the overpowering size of the Asian elephants.

In other ancient documents, “There were these ancient semi-mythical accounts of India, and they claimed that India had the biggest elephants in the world,” Roca said.


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