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Greece may once have been tropical refuge for African animals
Associated Press, July 20, 2000

Geology teams conducting excavations in northern Greece have uncovered 5 to 7 million year-old rhinoceros and giraffe fossils, indicating the region was once a tropical refuge to animals found in present-day Africa, geologists said Thursday. “A paleontological treasure was found” in the excavations near the northern towns of Grevena and Serres, about 415 kilometers (260 miles) north of Athens, said Professor Evangelia Tsoukala, who headed the geology team conducting the digs. In Serres, “impressive remains of a fossilized rhinoceros were discovered in addition to fossils of small-sized horses, antelopes and gazelles that date back 5 to 7 million years,” Tsoukala said. The dig in Grevena uncovered a large fossil of the ancestor of the present-day elephant. The 3 million-year-old fossil was found to be that of a male which stood 4.5 meters (15 feet) tall and weighed more than 12 tons. “They have discovered the biggest skeleton of a Mammut Borsoni that has ever been found in Greece, and the best completed jaw ever found in Europe,” Tsoukala explained. The Serres excavations began last year when a railway employee discovered fossilized skeleton parts of a giraffe, and the findings indicate that Greece once had a tropical climate and terrain.

“There is no evidence of cold weather in any part of the country at that time, which means that Greece, with its tropical climate, was actually a refuge for certain animals that had disappeared in the colder regions of northern Europe,” Tsoukala says. Heavy snowfalls and frequent rain are now common during the winter months in Greece, particularly in the northern, mountainous regions, where bears and wolves still roam the forests. But the prehistoric animals, which are believed to have come to Greece from Africa, vanished suddenly around 5 - 7 million years ago. “Due to our finding the skeletons of these animals in bunches, we suspect that there was a prolonged period of dry, arid weather that killed these animals,” Tsoukala said. Excavations in the Serres and Grevena areas have yielded so many finds that the digs could continue for another five years, she added. Less complete remains of similar animals dating back 9 million years have also reportedly been found in an area near the port city of Thessaloniki, as well as in Slovenia, Moldova, France, Hungary and Siberia.