The Story of the Elephant
by George Langford, Sr., Joliet, Illinois, after 1920 and prior to 1947
Edited and Copyrighted by George Langford, III, 2010
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The Ancient Mastodon

The Beast of Moeris' claims to direct Elephant ancestry are open to dispute and the Dinotherium must be considered as merely an aberrant relative or offshoot from the family tree.  There was a third beast however who though a later comer than Meri, nevertheless lived contemporaneously with and survived her.  His bones and teeth permit of little dispute. He was a many times great granddaddy of elephants primeval and is known as the Ancient Mastodon (Palaeomastodon).

This most remote authentic member of the race has left his remains in the upper strata of the Fayum and those of the Beast of Moeris lie beside and below him.  It was in about 1905 when the British Museum and Egyptian Survey expeditions were exploring the Qasr-el-Saga deposits that they came upon not only the now famous Beast of Moeris but one of even greater importance, the Ancient Mastodon.  Had the latter been passed over, the former's identity, or rather relationship to the Elephant race, could have been no more than guessed at but there is no need for guessing, now that the Ancient Mastodon's bones are in evidence.  His skull is so similar to Meri's on the one hand and so like a Mastodon's on the other that the connecting link is forged and the trend of elephant progress can be traced back almost into Eocene times.  And yet the gap between the Beast of Moeris and Ancient Mastodon is a wide one with many intermediate forms missing.  Judging from our experience in searching out later members of the Mastodon race, this gap was probably filled by numerous ancestors and ramifications before the Ancient Mastodon stage was reached.  All we have at hand are a few skulls and fragmentary bones.  They tell much however and much of what they do not tell may be inferred.

In the upper 900 feet of Qasr-el-Saga rocks which have yielded bones of the Ancient Mastodon, were relics of other animals.  A long time was required to deposit these upper layers and meanwhile the Yoke-toothed Whales had vanished.  S omething in the ocean had disagreed with them or they had disagreed among themselves.  The Sea Cow still survived minus her hind legs.  The Hyrax had grown to be as large as a bear. Big ostrich-like birds had bobbed up from nobody knows where.  Creodonts or hyena-like beasts had also appeared in great numbers.  The bones of these and many other animals have been discovered in the upper rock layers and more are being found to-day.

The Ancient Mastodon must have been about six feet tall, judging from the size of his skull.  No doubt his body was large and his legs long but as his neck had not elongated proportionately, some means was necessary to bring his mouth within reach of the ground and food.  He might have confined his diet to twigs and leaves growing overhead but family digging notions still prevailed, so his attention centered upon things nearer the ground.  Here Nature had stepped in and simplified matters.

To compensate for his generous stature, his lower jaws had grown long so that the two tusks in them could reach the ground.  Therefore he remained a digger and as such hard labor developed a short thick neck, the foundation was laid for possible future trouble.  However the Ancient Mastodon was feeling no worry as to remote possibilities.  He had a fine digging tool and more besides, for although his head had not elongated, his upper tusks had done so and made excellent pruning knives.  The nares or passage-ways in his skull leading from head to snout had also retreated to above his eyes which signified that his nose was long and wiggly; not a trunk just yet but quite flexible and a great help in getting food to its owner's mouth.  This lengthening of the nose into a flexible snout or proboscis marked its owner as one of a distinct order (Proboscidian).  It was also the beginning of a new head structure whereby increased height of akull was attained by diploe or air cells which converted the space between forehead and brain-case into a cellular bony mass.

The digging and pruning was difficult these days, for unlike Meri, the Ancient Mastodon did not make his home in the marshes and work was laborious when applied to hard dry ground. Food-gathering had therefore become something of a task and the hyena-like Creodonts were forever following him about, longing to kill him and gnaw his bones. But his tusks were long and sharp and they got him food and kept away his enemies as well.  He was big and strong but he could run too when necessary even though his legs were straight and pillar-shaped. His gait was a waddling gallop but it got him over the ground.

The Ancient Mastodon's tooth census had shrunken from the standard forty-four pattern until it stood at not more than twenty-six, for all but the four tusks, twelve grinders above and ten below had disappeared.  His molars were by this time trilophodont; that is, the number of paired cones was three, one more than the Beast of Moeris' molars.  Being a matter of considerable importance, the number of paired cones or crests will now and hereafter be understood to refer to the intermediate or second molar, for in the premolars, they tend to lessen and simplify in pattern, progressing from rear to front, while in the last or third molar, the crests increase in number and become more complicated.  As in the Beast of Moeris' case, the Ancient Mastodon's premolar infant or milk-teeth were in time replaced by new and permanent ones and this replacement was accomplished vertically in the ordinary mammalian way.

It may be inferred from all this that the discovery of the Ancient Mastodon's remains in the Oligocene deposits of the Fayum is a matter of no little importance to those interested in elephant genealogy.  The five peculiarities so characteristic of the race and which are but feebly developed in the Beast of Moeris, are amplified in the Ancient Mastodon to a point permitting of no dispute. These peculiarities so unmistakably elephantine are:

Nasal bones short; nose-openings below forehead and placed far back; the combination encouraging the growth of a long flexible snout.
The tendency to form diploe or air-cells in the skull bones, thereby attaining increased height and breadth of forehead without any considerable enlargement of brain; this to provide area for trunk attachment in front and support from the neck behind.
Abnormal development of incisors into upper and lower tusks not directly opposed to each other.
Grinding-tooth surfaces transversely ridged.
Chin spout-shaped.

The first three items pertain to trunk and tusks whereby the Elephant is readily distinguished from any other animal.  The fourth item is the most important one in determining the animal's dentity when only fragmentary evidence is available.  The fifth pertains mainly to trunk and although a mere rudiment in modern elephants, the spout-shaped chin played an important part in the early stages of the race's development.  These five items should be borne in mind if the reader would understand the successive steps of elephantine progress.  All of them are well-defined in the Ancient Mastodon's skull. And how about the creature's body and limbs?  To this, can be answered, even though little is known of the beast except his skull: His body was large, his legs straight and pillar-shaped, and each round foot carried five toes.  This general description answers for all elephants, from the Ancient Mastodon down to those of modern times. Not much progression there, you will say, but from the start body and limbs were admirably adapted for the animal's purpose.  It was his skull that underwent important changes, so innumerable and profound that the more one understands them, the more one marvels at the master intelligence and painstaking care that would not only permit but encourage even the lowly beast to progress toward a better life by the exercise of his own ingenuity.  Of the Ancient Mastodon, all that we do know has been said and those familiar with the bony structure of animals will recognize him as a direct ancestor of the Elephant family beginning with the Mastodon or primitive form.  Bones of another beast (Phiomia) with narrower skull and peculiar teeth, found in the Fayum point to the former as being the forerunner of a race, akin to successors of the Ancient Mastodon.  Another individual (Hemimastodon) of later Oligocene age from the Bugti Hills of northern India suggests that some day further information may be expected in that quarter.  The earth's surface has been but scratched as yet and no doubt, continued search will disclose many things as yet unknown.  But as far as the Elephant family is concerned, the latter part of the Oligocene period is a blank. Successors of the Ancient Mastodon and his relatives must have thrived in Africa or Asia, but as no trace of them has yet been found, we can only bide our time.  It is a long jump to the next geological period, Miocene, but we must make it to reach another stage of elephant advancement, the long-jawed Trilophodon.
[from the original, typewritten draft with hand-written corrections - GL,III, ed.]