The Cretan mammoth was 1.13m high and weighed around 300kg, for this reason, until recently, it was thought to be a baby elephant and had been named Elephas creticus.
But, scientists who re-examined a collection of fossil teeth at London's Natural History Museum (NHM) that had been unearthed by pioneering fossil hunter Dorothea Bate, in 1904, showed that the tooth enamel bore distinct mammoth hallmarks. Further proof came when the scientists retraced Bate's footsteps in Crete and found a mini-sized mammoth upper arm bone.
The new research was reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. It was thought that the Cretan dwarf was most likely a descendant of the extinct straight-tusked elephant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus, because this was the ancestor of nearly all the other extinct dwarf elephants found on various Mediterranean islands including Sicily, Malta and Cyprus.
But the recent work has shown that this was not the case. "Our work has meant that we can not only show it is a mammoth, but also demonstrate it is the smallest mammoth known to have existed," says NHM’s mammal expert Dr Victoria Herridge.