Scientists have unearthed a camel jawbone in the Syrian desert that they think may be a previously unknown tiny species of the animal and say dates back a million years.
The jawbone was found last month near the village of Khowm in the Palmyra region, about 150 miles northeast of Damascus, said Heba al-Sakhel, the head of the Syrian National Museum who was one of the leaders of the team of Syrian and Swiss researchers.
Last year, the team discovered the bones of a giant camel in Syria dating back 100,000 years. That animal stood between 10 and 13 feet tall — about twice the size of latter-day camels and the height at the shoulder of many African elephants.
The new find, along with the remains of the giant camel, could offer important clues about the animal's evolution, the researchers said.
"It is a very important discovery," said Jean-Marie Le Tensorer, who leads the Swiss side of the team. He said it is the oldest camel bone to be unearthed in the Middle East and probably worldwide.
He added in an interview Saturday that the camel appeared to be very small and could be a new species, but he stressed that more studies were needed to confirm that.
"The camel is very small in comparison with the normal camel," he said. "But we have to find more bones, different remains, before we can be sure it is a new species."