The current range of the Asian elephant is fragmented and restricted to southern Asia. Its historical range was far wider and extended from Anatolia and the Levant to Central China. The fossil record from these peripheral populations is scant and we know little of their relationship to modern Asian elephants. To gain a first insight to the genetic affinity of an E. maximus population that once inhabited Turkey we sequenced ca. 570 bp mtDNA from four individuals dating to ~3500 cal. BP. We show that these elephants carried a rare haplotype previously only observed in one modern elephant from Thailand. These results clarify the taxonomic identity of specimens with indeterminate morphologies and show that this ancient population groups within extant genetic variation. By placing the age of the common ancestor of this haplotype in the interval 3.7–58.7 kya (mean = 23.5 kya) we show that range-wide connectivity occurred at some time or times since the start of MIS 3, ~57 kya, probably reflecting range and population expansion during a favourable climatic episode. The genetic data do not distinguish natural versus anthropogenic origin of the Near Eastern Bronze Age population, but together with archaeological and paleoclimatic data they allow the possibility of a natural westward expansion around that time.
Bibliographical noteThe study was supported by the Natural History Museum (SIF fund).
The consensus DNA sequences are publically available on GenBank (accession numbers MF314177-MF314180).
- Ancient DNA
- Asian elephant
- Elephas maximus