Rousse Regional Museum of History
"All that I experienced afterwards had already been in Roustchouk". Elias Canetti
6 000 000 years old Mammals

Ventseslav Petkov, Curator at the Nature Department

The natural conditions on Earth have not always been the way we know them now. Continents changed their outlines, seas emerged and disappeared, and huge land spaces were rising above the ocean and sinking again.
The Balkans are a relatively young land. During the entire Mesozoic era (a period of around 250 million years ago), the age of dinosaur domination, which ended 65 million years ago, the Balkans did not exist as a land territory, thus there are no remains of dinosaurs here.
Around 9-10 million years ago (Late Miocene) the natural context on the Balkans has been synchronous to the contemporary African savanna. Antelopes, giraffes, trunked mammals, hipparions, rhinoceroses and predators – hyena and saber-tooth tigers were living in these territories.
In the beginning of Pliocene (around 5 million years ago) the climate, which continued to be mild, became again humid, and the forests began to dominate. Often met at that time were two prehistoric relatives of the contemporary elephants – the more wood-loving zygolophodon and the anancus.
During the second half of the Pliocene (around 3 million years ago) the climate in general became drier, especially in the southern parts of the Balkan Peninsula. The average annual temperatures decreased. During the so called “villafranc” (around 2 million years ago) a rapid change in fauna began: the warm-loving kinds from the Tertiary (from around 65 million years ago to 1.8 million years ago) retreated to the typical cool-loving Quaternary fauna (a period since 1.8 million years ago up to the present day). Europe from the east was invaded by a number of plant and animal kinds from the open spaces. Among them were the earliest mammoths – Mammuthus rumanus, whose most complete remains in the world are kept at the Rousse Museum.
More than 2 million years ago on our territories there were pheasant birds, deer, cheetah, pumas and a number of other kinds.
During the Early Pleistocene (around 1.8 million years ago) the lowering of temperatures continued. The climate of the Middle and Late Pleistocene (between 1 million years ago to 10 000 years ago) was typical with strong changes and rapid spells of cold weather, known as “Ice Ages”. During these periods the natural conditions consisted mainly of open spaces and large migrating and wandering herds. Typical animals were the broad-headed bison, the hairy mammoth, the hairy rhinoceros, the cave lion, and in the hilly and lower-mountain areas – the giant cave bear.
Around 10 000 years ago began the Holocene – a development era of the world, which continues nowadays. The outlook of the fauna gradually received its present-day look. During the Early Holocene wild horses and donkeys were galloping in the open spaces of the Dobrudzha region. Typical kinds were the wild bull auroch, the wisent and the beaver, which have disappeared from our present-day fauna. The human activity is the reason for the strong impoverishment of the fauna during the recent millennia. On the Balkans the lion was met until 2000 years ago, the wisent – up to the 10th-12th century, and the auroch, who is the predecessor of the contemporary domestic cattle, has been met in wild conditions up to the 17th century.
The science, which studies the organisms of the past geological eras, is called Paleontology.
One of the richest collections of fossil mammals in Bulgaria is kept in the funds of the “Nature” Department at the Rousse Regional Museum of History. It was been gathered by the famous citizen of Rousse Mihail Halvadzhiev – a teacher, paleontology fan and first curator of the “Nature” Department.
From the studies conducted so far in the region of Rousse the remains of 18 kinds of fossil mammals have been discovered. These are fossil kinds, which are met within the sediments of the Pliocene and the Pleistocene.
The brightest representatives of the fossil fauna in Rousse region are the mastodons, mammoths and the cave bear. Fossilized (petrified) thigh bones, lower jaws, tusk and entire skulls of these animals can be seen at the exhibitions, presented in the museum – “6 000 000 years old mammals” and “Mammoth hunters and farmers”.
Probably everyone has heard the word mastodon. This is a collective term for two quite different groups of trunked mammals, whose paths were separated more than 23 million years ago. The first group – Gomphotheriidae – went through a vigorous growth and inhabited all of the continents, except for Australia and Antarctica. Their history is spectacular and rich in events. Among their numerous successors, they were also predecessors of the contemporary elephants.
The other group – Mammutidae, did not experience some special zenith in its development. They were mainly forest animals.
The anancus was the last European representative of the Gomphotheriidae – one of the two “mastodon” groups. One of the earliest anancus in Europe are found in our country. It disappeared at the border with Pleistocene (around 1 800 000 years ago).
In comparison to the present-day African savanna elephant, the anancus is undersized, with a relatively longer body and short legs.
A characteristic feature of the Trunked order was their tusks. These were mutilated incisors (in comparison – the tusks of the walrus, for example, were canine teeth). The tusks did not have roots and continued to grow during the entire lifespan.
Many of the earlier trunked mammals, including the first elephants, had also had lower tusks, except for the upper ones. During the early stages of evolution of the trunked the pain purpose of the tusks was directly related to feeding. Of course, the tusks had different applications and during the late representatives of the group – with their help the contemporary elephants are digging, striping the tree barks, they use them as weapons, but these are more supporting functions. The male African elephants have larger and more massive tusks than the female ones. The male Indian elephants have well developed tusks, while the female practically have none. Some of the male Indian elephants also have no tusks.
In the beginning of the 20th century, during excavations, the famous Romanian paleontologist Stefanescu revealed two molar teeth of a kind of a mammoth unknown to science. After thorough investigations he determined that the discovered fossil remains belonged to one of the most primitive representatives of the family of mammoths. In 1924 Stefanescu published the data for the new kind of mammoth and gave him the name of Mammuthus rumanus (Stefanescu 1924). Since then up to the beginning of the 21st century the science of Paleontology knew for only two teeth and several fragments of a lower jaw.
In 1965 in a sand quarry near the village of Bosilkovtsi, Rousse region, the famous Bulgarian paleontologist Mihail Halvadzhiev discovered a lower jaw of a mammoth, which he determined as a jaw of the kind Mammuthus meridionalis.
In 2003 after conservation and restoration of all fossil materials from the paleontological collection of Mihail Halvadzhiev in the “Nature” Department of the Rousse Regional Museum of History, the collection was examined by Assoc. Prof. Nikolay Spasov and Dr. Georgi Markov from the National Museum of Natural History – BAS in Sofia. They determined that the lower jaw, discovered in 1965 by Mihail Halvadzhiev, has been determined incorrectly and actually belonged to the kind of Mammuthus rumanus.
To this moment the Rousse Regional Museum of History is the only one in the world to possess an entirely preserved lower jaw of Mammuthus rumanus!
Mentioning the word “mammoth” undoubtedly brings the associations with Ice Age. Indeed, one of the kinds of mammoths – the last one actually – was among the most typical animals of this period. The hairy mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) is known to everyone as the star of the Ice age. It is an extinct kind of animal from the family of the elephants. In size, mammoths were not larger than the contemporary elephants, but had a more massive trunk, shorter legs, long fur and long curved tusks, which probably served to the mammoth for gathering food underneath the thick snow cover.
Mammuthus primigenius manifested a final degree of adaptation in the kind Mammuthus. It had the largest number of lamellae on its teeth. The increase of the number of lamellae is related to the harder climatic conditions, and the change in vegetation respectively. The larger the number of lamellae and the higher the tooth crown, the more effective is the tooth for using the grass vegetation for food.
Mammuthus primigenius is one of the best known extinct kinds. A large number of intact skeletons at different individual age, even frozen corpses, are known from it.
In Europe Mammuthus primigenius died after a long cohabitation with man during the Paleolithic Age, around 12 000 years ago, in North America – around 11 000 years ago, and in some parts of Siberia – around 10 000 years ago. Recently, on the island of Wrangel on the Arctic Ocean were revealed the remains of a mammoth, dated 4000 years ago! (For comparison – at that time the Pyramids were constructed in Egypt).
At least 14 kinds of trunked mammals are known in Bulgaria, and the fund of the “Nature” Department keeps the remains of 9 kinds. The most valuable is the lower jaw (mandibula) of Mammuthus rumanus, which is the only one entirely preserved from the representative of the earliest mammoths. Around two thirds of the remains of Elephas antiquus (who gave the beginning of several kinds of dwarf-elephants, which inhabited Mediterranean islands during the Pleistocene) in our country are kept at the “Nature” Department.
The Cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) is a Prehistoric kind of bear that lived in Eurasia during the Middle and Late Pleistocene. It appeared as a kind around 300 000 years ago, probably evolved from the Etruscan bear (Ursus etruscus) and disappeared around 10 000 years ago.
The length of the body of the Cave bear reached 2.7-3.5 m, which is about 30% longer than the one of the contemporary Brown bear. The frontal part of the body was much more developed than the back; its limbs were short and strong, the head was massive. The skull of the Cave bear differs from the one of the Brown bear with a slanted forehead. Considering the significant degree of teeth wearing away, the Cave bear has been a vegetarian, whose main food has been grass plants and also honey.
The bears were giving birth to 1-2 little bears. The longevity of their life was around 20 years. They inhabited meadows, sparse forests, and in the mountains they were reaching the belt of the alpine meadows. The nomination “cave” (Lat.Spelaeus) was set to bears, because he largest number of their bones were found inside caves (the “Orlova Chuka” cave, a cave near the village of Pisanets, etc.)
The reason for the extinction of the Cave bear was probably the change of climate at the end of the Würm glacial period, when the area of the forests sharply decreased, depriving the bears from their food source. The hunting prehistoric man also played an essential role for the extinction of the Cave bear. It is presumed that he was killing the bear not only to feed himself and to make clothes, but also to clear the inhabited cave for himself.