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Temporal range: 12–0.006  Ma
Gomphotherium productum.jpg
Specimen of Gomphotherium productum at the AMNH
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Proboscidea
Superfamily: Gomphotherioidea
(Hay, 1922) A. Cabrera 1929
Genera [1]

Gomphotheres are any members of the diverse, extinct taxonomic family Gomphotheriidae. Gomphotheres were elephant-like proboscideans, but not belonging to the family Elephantidae. They were widespread in North America during the Miocene and Pliocene epochs, 12–1.6 million years ago. Some lived in parts of Eurasia, Beringia, and in South America following the Great American Interchange. Beginning about 5 million years ago, they were gradually replaced by modern elephants[ clarification needed ], apart from the last two South American genera, of which Cuvieronius did not become extinct until 9,100  BP, [2] and Haplomastodon , by some authors reclassified into Notiomastodon , fossils have been dated to as recently as 6,060 BP in the Valle del Magdalena, Colombia. [3] These gomphotheres also survived in Mexico and Central America until the end of the Pleistocene. [4]

Family is one of the eight major hierarchical taxonomic ranks in Linnaean taxonomy; it is classified between order and genus. A family may be divided into subfamilies, which are intermediate ranks between the ranks of family and genus. The official family names are Latin in origin; however, popular names are often used: for example, walnut trees and hickory trees belong to the family Juglandaceae, but that family is commonly referred to as being the "walnut family".

Elephant Large terrestrial mammals with trunks from Africa and Asia

Elephants are large mammals of the family Elephantidae in the order Proboscidea. Three species are currently recognised: the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant. Elephants are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Elephantidae is the only surviving family of the order Proboscidea; other, now extinct, members of the order include deinotheres, gomphotheres, mastodons, anancids and stegodontids; Elephantidae itself also contains several now extinct groups, such as the mammoths and straight-tusked elephants.

Elephantidae family of mammals

The Elephantidae are a family of large, herbivorous mammals collectively called elephants and mammoths. These are terrestrial large mammals with a snout modified into a trunk and teeth modified into tusks. Most genera and species in the family are extinct. Only two genera, Loxodonta and Elephas, are living.


The name "gomphothere" comes from Ancient Greek γόμφος, "peg, pin; wedge; joint" plus θηρίον, "beast".

Ancient Greek Version of the Greek language used from roughly the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE

The Ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BCE by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by medieval Greek.


Gomphotheres differed from elephants in their tooth structure, particularly the chewing surfaces on the molar teeth. The earlier species had four tusks, and their retracted facial and nasal bones prompted paleontologists to believe that gomphotheres had elephant-like trunks. [5]

Tooth hard, calcified structure found in the jaws (or mouths) of many vertebrates and used to break down food

A tooth is a hard, calcified structure found in the jaws of many vertebrates and used to break down food. Some animals, particularly carnivores, also use teeth for hunting or for defensive purposes. The roots of teeth are covered by gums. Teeth are not made of bone, but rather of multiple tissues of varying density and hardness. The cellular tissues that ultimately become teeth originate from the embryonic germ layer, the ectoderm.

Molar (tooth) large tooth at the back of the mouth

The molars or molar teeth are large, flat teeth at the back of the mouth. They are more developed in mammals. They are used primarily to grind food during chewing. The name molar derives from Latin, molaris dens, meaning "millstone tooth", from mola, millstone and dens, tooth. Molars show a great deal of diversity in size and shape across mammal groups.

Tusk elongated, continuously growing front teeth

Tusks are elongated, continuously growing front teeth, usually but not always in pairs, that protrude well beyond the mouth of certain mammal species. They are most commonly canine teeth, as with warthogs, pigs, and walruses, or, in the case of elephants, elongated incisors. In most tusked species both the males and the females have tusks although the males' are larger. Tusks are generally curved, though the narwhal's sole tusk is straight and has a helical structure. Continuous growth is enabled by formative tissues in the apical openings of the roots of the teeth. In earlier times elephant tusks weighing over 90 kg (200 lb) were not uncommon, though it is rare today to see any over 45 kg (100 lb).


Both the genus Gomphotherium and family Gomphotheriidae were erected by the German zoologist Karl Hermann Konrad Burmeister (1807-1892) in 1837.

<i>Gomphotherium</i> extinct genus of proboscid

Gomphotherium is an extinct genus of proboscids from the Neogene and early Pleistocene of Eurasia, Africa, and North America.

The genera Anancus , Morrillia , Paratetralophodon , and Tetralophodon , but also the families Choerolophodontidae and Amebelodontidae were formerly classified as gomphotheres, while recent work recovers gomphotheres sensu lato, as paraphyletic, with tetralophodont gompotheres closely related to Elephantidae and amebelodonts and choerolophodonts more primitive than trilophodont gomphotheres. [6] [7] [8] Phylogeny of trilophodont Gomphotheres according to Mothé et al., 2016: [8]

<i>Anancus</i> genus of mammals (fossil)

Anancus is an extinct genus of anancid endemic to Africa, Europe, and Asia, that lived during the Turolian age of the late Miocene until the genus' extinction during the early Pleistocene, roughly from 3—1.5 million years ago.

Morrillia is an extinct genus of proboscidea, family Anancidae, endemic to North America during the Pleistocene epoch from 1.810 Ma—300,000 years ago, living for approximately 1.5 million years.

Paratetralophodon is an extinct genus of elephant from late Neogene deposits in India and China. Although usually classified in Gomphotheriidae, recent studies find it to be more closely related to modern elephants.

Gomphotheriidae (Gomphotheres)




Brevirostrine clade







Isotopic analyses of South American gomphotheres suggest a wide diet for Notiomastodon platensis , except for the fossils unearthed at the localities in Santiago del Estero and La Carolina in Ecuador. Isotope analyses suggested an exclusive C4 diet, whereas every other South American locality indicates an exclusive C3 or mixed C3 and C4 diet. The results also support the latitudinal gradient of C3 and C4 grasses. The stereomicrowear analyses for N. platensis exhibited average scratch and pit values, which place it within the extant mixed-feeder morphospace and the higher frequency of fine scratches indicated the ingestion of C3 grasses.

<i>Notiomastodon</i> genus of mammals (fossil)

Notiomastodon is an extinct proboscidean genus of gomphotheres endemic to South America from the Pleistocene to the Holocene living for about 1.8 million years.

Santiago del Estero City in Argentina

Santiago del Estero is the capital of Santiago del Estero Province in northern Argentina. It has a population of 252,192 inhabitants, making it the twelfth largest city in the country, with a surface area of 2,116 km². It lies on the Dulce River and on National Route 9, at a distance of 1,042 km north-northwest from Buenos Aires. Estimated to be 455 years old, Santiago del Estero was the first city founded by Spanish settlers in the territory that is now Argentina. As such, it is nicknamed "Madre de Ciudades". Similarly, it has been officially declared the "mother of cities and cradle of folklore."

C<sub>4</sub> carbon fixation photosynthetic process used by some plants

C4 carbon fixation or the Hatch–Slack pathway is a photosynthetic process in some plants. It is the first step in extracting carbon from carbon dioxide to be able to use it in sugar and other biomolecules. It is one of three known processes for carbon fixation. "C4" refers to the four-carbon molecule that is the first product of this type of carbon fixation.

Alternatively, the presence of coarse and hypercoarse scratches along with gouges and large pits suggests the ingestion of foliage and lignified portions. The plant microfossil analysis recovered fragments of conifer tracheid and vessel elements with a ray of parenchyma cells, which corroborates the consumption of wood plants, pollen grains, spores, and fibers.

The Aguas de Araxa gomphotheres were generalist feeders and consumed wood elements, leaves, and C3 grasses. [9] Cuvieronius specimens from Chile were exclusively C3 plant eaters, whereas specimens from Bolivia and Ecuador are classified as having a mixed C3 and C4 diet. Notiomastodon showed a wider range of dietary adaptations. Specimens from Quequen Salado in Buenos Aires Province were entirely C3 feeders, whereas the diet of specimens from La Carolina Peninsula in Ecuador was exclusively C4. [10]

Possible causes for extinction

The results confirm that ancient diets cannot always be interpreted solely from dental morphology or extrapolated from present relatives. The data from Middle and Late Pleistocene periods indicate that over time, there was a shift in dietary patterns away from predominantly mixed feeders to more specialized feeders. This dietary evolution may have been one of the factors that contributed to the disappearance of South American gomphotheres at the end of the Pleistocene. [11] Climatic change and human predation have also been discussed as possible causes of the extinction. [12]

Associations with early human sites

Gomphothere remains are common at South American Paleo-indian sites. [13] Examples include the early human settlement at Monte Verde, Chile, dating to approximately 14,000 years ago, and the Altiplano Cundiboyacense (Tibitó, 11,740 BP) and the Valle del Magdalena of Colombia. [3] In 2011, remains dating between 10,600 and 11,600 years ago were also found in the El Fin del Mundo (End of the World) site in Sonora, Mexico's Clovis location – the first time such an association was found in a northern part of the continent where gomphotheres had been thought to have gone extinct 30,000 years ago. [14] In July 2014, it was announced that the "position and proximity of Clovis weapon fragments relative to the gomphothere bones at the site suggest that humans did in fact kill the two animals there. Of the seven Clovis points found at the site, four were in place among the bones, including one with bone and teeth fragments above and below. The other three points had clearly eroded away from the bone bed and were found scattered nearby." [15]

Related Research Articles

Proboscidea Order of mammals

The Proboscidea are a taxonomic order of afrotherian mammals containing one living family (Elephantidae) and several extinct families. This order, first described by J. Illiger in 1811, encompasses the trunked mammals. In addition to their enormous size, later proboscideans are distinguished by tusks and long, muscular trunks; these features were less developed or absent in the smaller early proboscideans. Beginning in the mid-Miocene, most members of this order were very large animals. The largest land mammal today is the African elephant weighing up to 10.4 tonnes with a shoulder height of up to 4 m (13.1 ft). The largest land mammal of all time may have also been a proboscidean: Palaeoloxodon namadicus, which may have weighed up to 22 t with a shoulder height up to 5.2 m (17.1 ft), surpassing several sauropod dinosaurs.

Mastodon genus of mammals (fossil)

Mastodons are any species of extinct proboscideans in the genus Mammut, distantly related to elephants, that inhabited North and Central America during the late Miocene or late Pliocene up to their extinction at the end of the Pleistocene 10,000 to 11,000 years ago. Mastodons lived in herds and were predominantly forest-dwelling animals that fed on a mixed diet obtained by browsing and grazing with a seasonal preference for browsing, similar to living elephants.

<i>Amebelodon</i> genus of mammals (fossil)

Amebelodon is a genus of extinct proboscidean belonging to Amebelodontidae, a group of proboscideans related to the modern elephants and their close relative the mammoth. The most striking attribute of this animal is its lower tusks, which are narrow, elongated, and distinctly flattened with the degree of flattening varying among the different species. Two valid species are currently placed within this genus, which was endemic to North America. Other species once assigned to Amebelodon are now assigned to the genus Konobelodon, which was once a subgenus.

Deinotheriidae family of mammals

Deinotheriidae is a family of prehistoric elephant-like proboscideans that lived during the Cenozoic era, first appearing in Africa, then spreading across southern Asia (Indo-Pakistan) and Europe. During that time, they changed very little, apart from growing much larger in size; by the late Miocene, they had become the largest land animals of their time. Their most distinctive features were the downward-curving tusks on the lower jaw.

<i>Cuvieronius</i> genus of mammals (fossil)

Cuvieronius is an extinct New World genus of gomphotheres and is named after the French naturalist Georges Cuvier. Alive, specimens typically stood about 2.3 m (7.5 ft) tall at the shoulder, weighed about 3.5 t and would have superficially resembled modern elephants with spiral-shaped tusks.

<i>Stegomastodon</i> genus of mammals (fossil)

Stegomastodon is an extinct genus of gomphotheres, a family of proboscideans. It is not to be confused with the genus Mammut from a different proboscidean family, whose members are commonly called "mastodons", nor with the genus Stegodon, from yet another proboscidean subfamily, whose members are commonly called "stegodonts". The Stegomastodon was one of the smaller species through the genus. It ranged through North and possibly South America.

<i>Mammuthus meridionalis</i> species of mammal (fossil)

Mammuthus meridionalis, or the southern mammoth, is an extinct species of mammoth endemic to Europe and Central Asia from the Gelasian stage of the Early Pleistocene, living from 2.5–1.5 mya.

<i>Sinomastodon</i> genus of mammals (fossil)

Sinomastodon is an extinct gomphothere genus, from the Late Miocene to the Early Pleistocene deposits of south-east Asia. It is not to be confused with the genus Mammut from a different proboscidean family, whose members are commonly called "mastodons".

<i>Tetralophodon</i> genus of mammals (fossil)

Tetralophodon is an extinct elephantoid genus belonging to the family Anancidae.

<i>Rhynchotherium</i> genus of mammals (fossil)

Rhynchotherium is an extinct genus of proboscidea endemic to North America and Central America during the Miocene through Pliocene from 13.650—3.6 Ma, living for approximately 10 million years.

<i>Eubelodon</i> genus of mammals (fossil)

Eubelodon is an extinct genus of gomphothere which lived in North America during the Miocene Epoch. It contains a single species: Eubelodon morrilli. Like other gomphotheres it had a superficially elephant-like appearance with a trunk and tusks.

<i>Haplomastodon</i> genus of mammals (fossil)

Haplomastodon is a dubious extinct genus of proboscidean endemic to South America during the Pleistocene from 1.810 million to 11,000 years ago, living for about 1.8 million years. Haplomastodon is considered synonymous with Notiomastodon by some researchers.

Amebelodontidae family of mammals

Amebelodontidae is an extinct family of large herbivorous mammals that were closely related to elephants. They were assigned to Gomphotheriidae in the past, but recent authors consider them a distinct family.

Choerolophodontidae is an extinct family of large herbivorous mammals that were closely related to elephants. Two genera are known, Afrochoerodon and Choerolophodon.


Tibitó is the second-oldest dated archaeological site on the Altiplano Cundiboyacense, Colombia. The rock shelter is located in the municipality Tocancipá, Cundinamarca, Colombia, in the northern part of the Bogotá savanna. At Tibitó, bone and stone tools and carbon have been found. Bones from Haplomastodon, Cuvieronius, Cerdocyon and white tailed deer from the deepest human trace containing layer of the site is carbon dated to be 11,740 ± 110 years old. The oldest dated sediments are lacustrine clays from an ancient Pleistocene lake.

Sabana Formation

The Sabana Formation is a geological formation of the Bogotá savanna, Altiplano Cundiboyacense, Eastern Ranges of the Colombian Andes. The formation consists mainly of shales with at the edges of the Bogotá savanna lignites and sandstones. The Sabana Formation dates to the Quaternary period; Middle to Late Pleistocene epoch, and has a maximum thickness of 320 metres (1,050 ft), varying greatly across the savanna. It is the uppermost formation of the lacustrine and fluvio-glacial sediments of paleolake Humboldt, that existed at the edge of the Eastern Hills until the latest Pleistocene.


The Anancidae are an extinct family of large herbivorous mammals that were closely related to elephants. They were assigned to the Gomphotheriidae in the past, but recent authors consider them a distinct family. Under the Gomphotheriidae sensu lato, they were known as the tetralophodont gompotheres based on their molar morphology.


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  14. "Finding would reveal contact between humans and gomphotheres in North America". Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. 24 January 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
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