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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Giant camel fossil found in Syria
Camel bones, Jean-Marie Le Tensorer
Leg bone from a giant camel (l) compared with a modern one
Archaeologists have discovered the 100,000-year-old fossilised remains of a previously unknown giant camel species in Syria.

The bones of the dromedary were unearthed by a Swiss-Syrian team of researchers near the village of El Kowm in the central part of the country.

The animal is thought to have been double the size of a modern-day camel.

It may even have been killed by humans, who were living at the once water-rich site during the same period.

Jean-Marie Le Tensorer of the University of Basel commented: "It was not known that the dromedary was present in the Middle East more than 10,000 years ago.

"The camel's shoulders stood three metres high and it was around four metres tall; as big as a giraffe or an elephant. Nobody knew that such a species had existed," he said.

Kingsize camels

Professor Le Tensorer, who has been excavating at the desert site in Kowm since 1999, said the first large bones were found some years ago but were only confirmed as belonging to a camel after more bones from several parts of the same animal were recently discovered.

Human tooth   AP Photo/Syrian Dept. of Antiquities and Museums, HO
The human tooth is robust and Neanderthal-like
Between 2005 and 2006, more than 40 bone fragments of giant camels were found by the team.

The big species has been found as far back as 150,000 years ago. But fossils from other species of camel have been unearthed at the site dating to one million years ago.

Human remains from the same period as the giant camel have also been discovered at the site. The radius (forearm) and tooth have been taken to Switzerland, where they are undergoing anthropological analysis.

Artist's impression of a giant camel  Image: Jean-Marie Le Tensorer
The camel was double the size of its present-day counterpart
"The bone is that of a Homo sapiens, or modern man, but the tooth is extremely archaic, similar to that of a Neanderthal. We don't know yet what it is exactly. Do we have a very old Homo sapiens or a Neanderthal?" said Professor Le Tensorer.

"We expect to find more bones that would help determine what kind of man it was."

El Kowm, the site where the remains were discovered along with flint and stone weapons, is a 20km-wide (14 miles) gap between two mountain ranges with natural springs.

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