Of Elephans and Mammoths

From: Marty Leipzig

Marilyn Burge, knowing that tribology is a slippery subject, said "Amusing Hate Rant from Mo" to Fredric Rice

FR> I haven't bothered to call yet I believe that's local to the
FR> 626 area code. It's enough, I believe, that I forced these
FR> two cultists to learn what their mythologies actually say and
FR> forced them to learn the fact that elephants weren't in North
FR> America when their mythologies claim they were.

MB> They may have you on a technicality, Fredrick.
Nope. Not even close.

"Elephants", strictly speaking, are composed of two extant species: _Loxodonta africana_, the African elephant, and _Elephas maximus_, the Asian alternative.

These species were never found in North American prior to the development of zoological gardens in the mid-1800's; except perhaps, in the odd itinerant circus. By this token alone, the Mormon terrorists are dead wrong.

MB> Aren't mammoths
MB> a close relative of elephants?  I think they are.
Depends on your definition of "close". Taxonomically speaking, they're comparing the equivalent of Appletoons and Orang Utans (however outraged the Orangs might become).

Why, you might (masochistically) ask? Well, let us turn back the clock, back to the Early Paleocene and look into proboscidean evolution and just see the whys, wherefores, and whatnots of these Mormonic claims.

Back in the wild and lawless days of the Late Paleocene in Central and Southern Africa, there existed a group of little buck-toothed nasty plebeian critters, closely allied to today's Hyrax. These gave rise, a bit later, to the Embrithopoedea (_Arsiniotherium_ of Pakistan is a common variety); a slow, sullen, yet dull, sort of relatively knot-headed form of mammal that probably should have given rise to Creationists, but instead, were the ancestors of the Order Proboscidea (elephants proper, and a slew of other oddball forms); of which, the Family Elephanitidae is the lineage of "one, true" elephants.

In the Eocene, there was an animal who traveled under the moniker of _Paleomastodon_, derived from the Hyraxidae-Embrithopoedea clade, which was the mother of all elephantoids (i.e., the common ancestor). From this ancestral stock, there was a rapid divergence and development of all sorts of strange, bizarre and unexpected elephant-like forms. From _Paleomastodon_, there evolved _Dinotherium_, a dead-end early proboscidean that became extinct in the Early Pleistocene, never having ventured out of the pleasant and sylvan glades of it's African place of origin.

The Miocene was a hallmark of elephantineoid evolution, as it saw four distinct lineages of proboscideans develop: the _Elephas_ line, which lead to the two previously mentioned extant species, the _Gomphotherian_ lineage; a truly bizarre, unusual (and short-lived) elephantoid experiment, the _Mammut_ line, which lead to the American Mastodon, and another unsung and seldom heard-about group: the Stegodons (who winked out without so much as a whisper in the Early Pleistocene).

The Miocene also saw the radiation of the four elephantine clades out of Africa, via land bridges during the Stillwellian Lowstand, to the Americas and up north to Europe and Asia. These were the salad days of proboscidean evolution; when grass was plentiful, the climate warm and not too humid, and the _Phoraracos_ (a terribly carnivorous ratite) was long gone.

But, as natural selection caught up with some of these violators of Cope's Law, ("Use it or lose it.") the Gomphotheres and Stegodonts became extinct. Oddly enough, a slight fissuring of the elephantoid line happened in the Late Pliocene, and saw the emergence of the _Mammathus_ (i.e., the mammoth) group (perhaps as response to infill the vacant evolutionary hyperspace left by the Gomphs and Stegs).

So, in North America (the bone of contention of the Mormon's claims), in the Pleistocene, there existed two separate and distinct proboscidean clades (remember, the true elephants *never* made it out of Africa): the families Mammathuidae and Mammutidae (causing great grief to students of Vertebrate Paleontology), which both became extinct in the very Late Pleistocene or very Early Holocene.

This is the closest that we get to having "elephants" in North America: a branching off of the "main" line of proboscidean evolution at the *family* taxonomic level.

Some may call this picking-nits (nuts to them); but if we extend the same logic to the Family Hominidae, then _Australopitihicus afarensis_ would be considered identical to _Homo sapiens_; and modern man existed at Hadar, Ethiopia cheek-by-jowl with Lucy.

So there.

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