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Ancient tusk a clue to elephant history

Update: March, 09/2014 - 18:03

Priceless artifact: Nguyen Truong Son studies his precious elephant tusk fossil. The 4-piece tusk is 1.26m long and weighs 24kg. The fossil is priceless due to its artistic and historical value.

by Anh Ngan

Tay Nguyen (The Central Highlands) in Viet Nam is renowned for its natural beauty with huge gentle elephants and also for a precious elephant tusk fossil that has been recently revealed.

The owner of the two-million-dollar tusk is 50-year-old Nguyen Truong Son residing in Pleiku City in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai. He works as a researcher of wild animals for the Forest Management Sub-institute, Viet Nam's Society of Forestry Science.

According to Son, the tusk which he has, actually belonged to his father, Nguyen Van Nam, who was an artisan creating specimens of plants and animals and also a photographer. Son received the tusk as a family inheritance from his father before 1975.

"My father used to travel across villages to take photographs. He also ate and lived with the local people and gradually gained their affection. During a trip to the Chu A Thai mountainous area, also in Gia Lai, he was presented with four pieces of a fossilised tusk by a village patriarch," Son said.

After years of keeping it under wraps, Son recently publicised about his precious possession. The 4-piece tusk is 1.26m long and weighs 24kg. In 2010, it was granted the certificate of precious stones' verification by the Viet Gem-Gold and Jewellery Institute. Thereafter, he approached the Viet Nam Institute of Archaeology to find its true age, and the result showed that the fossil is over 21,000 years old.

"This is a unique tusk in the world," Son claimed.

"Colourful mineral crystals are deeply attached to the tusk, which add to its sparkle and artistic feature. The tusk also helps to identify a historical period, so it should be considered precious," he further added.

Ten years ago, while cleaning his house, Son placed pieces of the tusk under his bed, and since then his room has always been cool during any time of the year.

"The dry season in the Central Highlands is very hot, but it's unknown why it's always cool and comfortable in my room. Since this strange phenomenon, I've embarked on conducting research on the tusk. Some documents affirm that besides cooling the surrounding atmosphere, the mineral crystal also helps to treat diseases," Son said.

Son recollected that when he was ten years old, he used to follow his father to the neighbouring province of Dak Lak to buy elephants and sell them to villages to be used as means of transportation.

Born into a family that traditionally traded in tanning, he had taken up the trade since a very young age, which has contributed significantly to his job. He has travelled to the Con Dao Island, cooperated with the HCM Fine Arts Association and the Viet Nam Fine Arts Association to revive specimens of endangered animals for exhibitions and animal-protection campaigns.

After learning about his reputation, many universities such as the Tay Nguyen University or Dong Nai Forestry University has invited him to construct models of animals for teaching purposes. As of now, Son has created over 1,000 different models of both plants and animals.

Ancient fossil: According to the Viet Nam Institute of Archaeology, the tusk is over 21,000 years old. — Photos

Priceless value

After Son's precious fossilised tusk was made public via media, many businessmen who were keen on purchasing it have contacted him. A foreign businessman had even offered to pay US$2 million for the fossil. Another businessman had suggested him to have it exhibited abroad and was ready to share half of the generated profits with him. However, Son rejected all their offers.

He wants to cooperate with other scientists to study the history related to the species of elephants that the tusk belongs to. With his rich experience in researching wild animals, he believes that the tusk dates back to the ice age, and the species of elephants residing within the area at that time, temporarily called F2, were close relatives of the mammoths and elephants presently found in Viet Nam.

Therefore, it can be inferred that the tusk might have actually measured up to 2.8m in length, with its end having an approximate perimeter of 85cm and might have weighed 48kg.

"I want to clarify the size of the tusk, based on which I will create a plaster replica, with a mineral crystal appearance resembling the original," Son remarked.

"Next, I will find an adult elephant to measure the relevant ratio between the tusk and skull. After finding the relative data, I will create a model of the skull that is suitable for the tusk and then create an entire model of the elephant that the tusk belongs to. However, I keep wondering if that species of elephant is as hairy as the mammoths or hairless like the current elephants in Viet Nam," he emphasized, while elaborating on his future plan.

He has also travelled to the village where his father was handed over the four tusk pieces, hoping to find out any remaining pieces or any other prehistoric tusks, however, the traces have become too vague after the wars.

Son claimed that he can earn a fortune if he sold the precious fossil, but he has been very keen on getting answers to his questions regarding the tusk. To Son's family, money does not matter, but what matters is that his wishes are fulfilled.

"Fortunately, my eldest son, Nguyen Hoang Gia, has imbibed the secrets of tanning, so I feel very confident about handing over my inheritance to him," he added.

"I hope that the other scientists will join me in my research to clarify the hidden secrets related to the tusk. Thus, we can thoroughly study the ancient elephants of Viet Nam and find more solutions to protect the present elephants that face the threat of extinction," he noted. — VNS

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