BUCHAREST, Romania -- Miners in Romania have unearthed the skeleton of a 2.5 million-year-old mastodon, believed to be one of the best preserved in Europe, a local official said Friday.
They stumbled on the remains of the mammoth-like animal during excavations in June at a coal mine in the village of Racosul de Sus, around 100 miles (170 kilometers) northwest of Bucharest, according to Laszlo Demeter, a historian and local councilor.
"This is one of the most spectacular finds in Europe," paleontologist Vlad Codrea, who examined the skeleton, told The Associated Press. "For Romania it is unique."
The mastadon became extinct in Europe two to three million years ago. Codrea, of Babes Bolyai University in Cluj, said 90% of the skeleton's bones were intact, with damage to the skull and tusks.
He also said that he hoped the find would help paleontologists to form a better image of the animals and vegetation present in the area 2.5 million years ago.
"(This find) will open up an area of (paleontological) research in the area," said Alexandru Andresanu, a professor at the Bucharest Geology Faculty in a telephone interview.
"It is sensational. To discover a near complete skeleton (like this) is unique in Romania and a rarity in the world," said Marton Wentzel, a researcher of vertebrates at the Three Rivers Land museum in Oradea, western Romania. "It is important because it can give us complete information about the flora and fauna or the era."
The animal — 10 feet (3 meters) high and 23 feet (7 meters) long — was a forefather of today's elephants. It is related to the mammoth, but fed on leaves instead of grazing and had straight tusks, instead of curved ones. The reason it died out was probably due to climate change, said Codrea.
The skeleton will be fully dug out in two months' time, Demeter said. Research will be conducted on the bones and the skeleton will then be displayed in the nearby museum of Baraolt.