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Elephants Once Roamed Greece’s Pinios River Valley

Greece pinios river
The Pinios River. Credit: Chavakismanolis /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Today’s placid scenes along the verdant shores of Greece’s Pinios River in Thessaly belie its ancient history as the home of hippopotamuses, bison, and even elephants, according to geologist/paleontologist and professor Athanassios Athanassiou.

His recent study, entitled The Paleolithic World of Pinios, describes numerous fossilized remains of mammals discovered in the Pinios River basin which are between 30,000 and 45,000 years old.

Greece Pinios river
Photo: AMNA

The large animals, some of which are now only found in Africa and Asia, roamed the Pinios River valley during the Upper Pleistocene era, which began 180,000 years ago and includes a vast swath of human history, ending just 10,000 years ago, when humans had begun to form settlements.

First fossils unearthed in 1958

For historical scale, it is noted that the city of Jericho, one of the first cities in the entire world, was initially settled in 11,000 BC. Cows were domesticated for the first time in Africa and the Middle East in 10,000 BC.

Athanassiou’s study makes reference to, among other fossils found in the valley, those belonging to relatives of modern-day elephants (Elephas antiquus), wild bulls (Bos primigenius, or aurochs), and buffalo (Bubalus cf. arnee).

There are also remains of ibex (Capra ibex), antelope (Saiga tatarica), rhinoceros (Stephanorhinus hemitoechus), horses (Equus ferus and Equus hydruntinus), hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus sp.), deer species (Cervus sp., Dama sp. and Capreolus capreolus), and the extinct “Irish deer” (Megaloceros sp.).

The first fossils from the Pinios River valley were unearthed in 1958 by a German archaeological mission’s excavations.

Some of the findings are now exhibited at Thessaly University’s Medical School, while others, including an elephant tusk, the horns of a wild ox, and the skull of a deer, are on display at the Museum of Larissa.

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