The first-ever skeletal remains unearthed within Pune city limits last month have been confirmed to be that of an elephant. These samples are now undergoing laboratory tests at Deccan College. Once complete, archaeologists will also be able to confirm the actual cause of death.
On November 25, some workers of Pune Metro stumbled upon large-sized skeletons about 10 feet below ground. The remains, then believed to be that of mammals, were discovered during the digging which was underway near Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai. Preliminary analysis had suggested the bones to be of elephants and some bovine animals.
Soon, four archaeologists from Deccan College Post Graduate Institute visited the site and were asked to carry out initial study and observations.
“About 10 to 12 bone samples were handed over to us a fortnight ago. The bones belong to a single elephant. These are mostly limb and vertebrate bones,” Sachin Joshi, archaeo-chemist at Deccan College and lead for this project, told The Indian Express.
Normally, once the skeletal remains are acquired, experts first wash it under tap water and also use chemicals to purify it from all dirt and dust. “In this case, we will subject the bone remains to fluorine and phosphate tests which is known as the dating process. The composition of these chemicals in the remains will reveal the approximate age of the skeletal remains,” said Joshi, who is in-charge of this chemical analysis.
Fluorine dating method is used to identify the age of the bones, be it fossilised, semi-fossilised or even fresh ones.
Once complete, the samples will later be sent to the college’s Zoology department where it will further undergo more tests. “The archaeo-zoologists will carefully study the samples to trace any injury marks on them. This could provide clues regarding the cause of death of the animal. In addition, the elephant’s gender determination will also be conducted,” he said.
Since it was an accidental discovery by the Metro construction workers, some samples suffered damages and had even crumbled. Excavationists thought that the skeletal remains dated to not more than 250 years, most probably from the times when the Peshwas ruled Pune. The presence of a Hatti Mahal (or Palace of Elephants) in the vicinity of the present-day site was probably why the bones were found near Mandai, experts had said. This site could have been used for burial, given that the locality was sparsely populated two centuries ago.
Initially, the archaeologists had considered carrying out scientific excavation at the Metro site, a land owned by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). However, after having acquired the samples, they now feel further exploration will be a futile effort. This is mainly due to the nature of the samples, which are neither fossilised nor semi-fossilised. Skeletons fossilise after over several thousands of years.
“Had the samples been fossilised, we could have planned an excavation and tried to understand how such aged samples were present in the present-day city limits. Since these bone remains are relatively fresh and non-fossilised in nature, there is no requirement to excavate further. The present samples will itself be sufficient to reveal the age of the animal. Besides, the site being located in the heart of the city and is thickly inhabited, carrying out excavation will be no easy task,” added Joshi.
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