Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Final illustrations

Eight days to go 'till delivery of Pygmy Elephants at the publishers, and although I have not been as busy as I would have wanted, I've completed most of the illustrations that remain to be done.

Here is my illustration of Elephas antiquus, aka Paleoloxodon antiquus, the presumed ancestor of most of the Mediterranean pygmy elephants. It was bigger than a modern Asian elephant (some of the very biggest specimens of Asian elephants, from Sri Lanka and the Royal Bardia National Park, would have come close). E. antiquus had - we think - more pronounced depressions in the dome of its head than today's Asian elephant, and front legs longer than the back legs, giving it a more sloping back. The tusk sockets seem to have been more massive than in today's elephants, and its tusks were more straight or gently curving. This last characteristic gives it its alternative name, the "straight-tusked elephant".

E. antiquus was a European elephant, a recent well-preserved example turned up during building work at the car park for the Ebbsfleet Eurostar station in Kent. It was a contemporary of early human ancestors like Homo heidelbergensis, although it was not still around when the first Homo sapiens showed up in England. Several European E. antiquus finds show signs of butchery by humans, one even had what seems to be the shaft of a spear among its remains.

Less young readers may remember seeing illustrations in R.J. Unstead's primary school history books for children, older Ladybird books or the How and Why Wonder Book of early humans in what's now London, stalking straight-tusked elephants.

The dwarf elephants of the Mediterranean, including the tiniest, the three-foot Elephas falconeri (see below) are believed to be the descendents of E. antiquus. Some had (we think) the same domed heads and comparatively massive tusk sockets.