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Swiss unearth giant camel bones

The ancient giant camel bone on the left is much larger than those of today's camels

(Keystone)

Researchers from Basel and Zurich universities have discovered a new species of giant camel that lived thousands of years ago.

Bones uncovered in Syria reveal that the animal was more than three metres tall - closer in size to a giraffe than a modern camel.

"Between July and August we found several giant camel bones from different animals, which confirmed that this was a new species," said Jean-Marie Le Tensorer, professor of prehistory at Basel University.

The scientists unearthed more than 20 bone fragments from different layers of rock, leading them to believe that the animals had lived over a period of thousands, or even tens of thousands of years.

The bone fragments – from the foot, shoulder and jaw - have been dated back to 100,000 years ago. All are around twice the normal size for a camel.

"Sensational find"

Tools made from animal foot bones were found close to the site, indicating that humans had hunted these large animals, the scientists said.

"This find is sensational as it could help us understand the evolution of the camel," said anthropologist Peter Schmid of Zurich University.

Scientists know very little about the history of the camel, and are unsure whether it or the one-humped dromedary comes first in the evolutionary order.

The discovery was made near the village of El Kown in central Syria, close to the site of one of the oldest human settlements ever excavated.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The giant camel bones were found near El Kown in central Syria, near to the site of one of the earliest human settlements ever excavated.
Zurich and Basel university archaeologists and anthropologists made the discovery.
The giant camel is believed to have lived 100,000 years ago.

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