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DISCOVERY OF A MAMMOTH IN VIMINACIUM

Zoran Marković & Miloš Milivojević

During the coal exploitation activities at the northwestern part of surface pit belonging to coal mine of Thermo-electric plant “Drmno”-Stari Kostolac, some geological profiles were exposed with the height of app. 75 m. In late May 2009, while excavating gravel for needs of road construction, a worker from “Autotransport” firm had discovered some remains of a large animal at the depth of 27 m.
As the archeological site “Viminacium” is in the immediate vicinity of the gravel pit, the archeologists were informed immediately and on May 1st 2009 they called for help the paleontologists from the Natural History Museum, Dr Zoran Marković and Miloš Milivojević, Senior Preparator.
It was immediately clear that the process will be complex. With the help of construction workers layers were carefully removed one at the time, leading to the extraordinary record of a whole postcranial skeleton and one part of skull of the fossil proboscidean Mammuthus sp.
Once the skeleton was sufficiently freed from the surrounding sediment, the bones and surrounding sediment (composed of sands and fine clays) were conserved and consolidated. The conservation process was very demanding, as for the first time in our country this activity was performed in situ, i.e. at the very place where the skeleton was discovered in the open area.
At the territory of Serbia there are over 1000 known remains but none of them belonged to the oldest representative of genus Mammuthus (mammoth) – species M. meridionalis. It is not impossible that during the period when this species existed in other parts of Europe this part of Balkans represented a special ecological niche. The morphological characteristics and the age of sediments in which the fossil was discovered indicate the geologically eldest representative of genus Mammuthus in Serbia.
We now know that this giant was about 6 m long and lived to a ripe old age of over 60, which is quite a lot for a proboscidean. After she was stuck in the mud somewhere in the swamps around a river delta, the exhausted animal died in the same position in which she was later discovered almost a million years later.
It seems that she just “kneeled over” and did not resist the mud too much. The symmetrical position of left and right limbs, particularly pronounced in hind legs, is a curiosity very rarely found in fossil remains. There are no traces of scavenger activity which was otherwise common in fossil remains from other localities.
Although in Serbia and the neighboring countries there are several thousand records of teeth and other parts of skeleton belonging to genus Mammuthus, the blank space in the map of distribution of these extinct animals testifies of the insufficiently serious work of renowned experts in proboscidean paleozoology. Therefore this skeleton from Drmno is still waiting for its “christening in Latin”. There is an idea that all parts of the skeleton should be exhibited in the way that they were discovered (in situ) at the very coal pit. This type of exhibiting the cultural asset is new for our country, as well as the neighboring areas, at least considering the Southeastern Europe. The rarity of this record and the ambient in which it was discovered make it particularly attractive, definitively contributing to improvement of tourist offer of this part of Serbia. At the same time, the speed of reacting to implementation of conservation measures indicates our museological and scientific awareness. This is not an important phenomenon only for Serbia but also for the natural history of the whole planet.


News from Viminacium

November 2010

Implementation of the "Mammoth from Drmno" which is funded by the Ministry of Culture of Serbia and the Natural History Museum, is coming to an end. Work on the platform for the movement of visitors and adequate lighting interiors is completed. Due to extremely poor weather conditions during the execution of the final works caused some dalay so there is still some work to do - setting the mirrors in the ready-made frame-panels. This will improve the visual communication between observers and exhibits.
Information on visits and tours through the locality may be found at: www.viminacium.org.rs