The most extensive set of fossilized mammal footprints ever found has allowed scientists to recreate how elephants lived 7 million years ago.
Co-author Brian Kraatz told Discovery News that the trackway "shows the oldest evidence of complex social behavior within elephants."
"It's an amazing locality," added Kraatz, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy at the Western University of Health Sciences.
"Basically, this is fossilized behavior," Faysal Bibi, lead author and a researcher at the Institut International de Paléoprimatologie and the Museum für Naturkunde, was quoted as saying in a press release. "This is an absolutely unique site, a really rare opportunity in the fossil record that lets you see animal behavior in a way you couldn't otherwise do with bones or teeth."
Bibi, Kraatz and their colleagues can tell that the prehistoric elephant herd consisted of at least 13 individuals. They walked through mud and left tracks that hardened, were buried and then re-exposed by erosion. Analysis of trackway stride lengths reveals the herd contained a diversity of sizes, from adults to a young calf.