Time for a little game. What does this photo represent? Can you work out what happened here? One clue: the skeleton belonged to a large mammal.
Sorry the pic is in black-and-white and a bit fuzzy, it’s the best version of the image I have (a colour version exists somewhere – please do pass it on if you have it… UPDATE: thanks indeed to David Bressan of History of Geology). I’ve been looking for this photo for years (it was taken by Katia Krafft), and am grateful to Tony Butcher for passing it on after discovering it earlier this year.
UPDATE: Many thanks to everyone who had a go at interpreting the photograph. As correctly guessed, worked out or stated by some of you, it does indeed show an impression left in cooled lava by the body of a young elephant. The photo was taken on the flanks of Nyiragongo Volcano in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1977: it has appeared in several different publications on volcanoes. The version I initially used was from Schlüter (2006).
While much of the animal’s skeleton remains, the soft tissues have gone, but the shape of the body remains (including what I interpret as the trunk at top left). As stated by Emory Kimbrough in comment 10, fissures opened in the sides of Nyiragongo’s crater on January 10th 1977 and the volcano’s large lava lake was fully drained in less than an hour. About 20 million cubic m of lava poured into the jungle on both the western and southern sides of the volcano, flowing at 60 km/hr or more on the uphill slopes, and forming waves up to 3 m deep. At least 70 (and as many as 400) people were killed (some sources say 2000!). An unknown number of elephants (and surely other animals) were also killed, though I don’t know how many left behind impressions such as this one.
So there we have it. As I’m sure I must have mentioned before, I remember seeing a children’s book about australopithecines mentioning the discovery of a deinothere’s body impression in cooled lava. Anybody know what I’m talking about?
Ref – –
Schlüter, T. 2006. Geological Atlas of Africa With Notes on Stratigraphy, Tectonics, Economic Geology, Geohazards and Geosites of Each Country. Spinger, Berlin.