(Reuters) — The Gomphotheresan extinct relative of the modern elephant, roamed southern Chile thousands of years ago and could have been the target of mass hunts by the inhabitants of the region, according to the hypothesis of Chilean scientists after a recent discovery.

12,000-year-old elephant remains discovered in Chile Credit: Nobumichi Tamura/STKRF/AP

Scientists recently discovered several remains of Gomphothere dating from 12,000 years ago near Lake Tagua Tagua, a lake of glacial origin, in southern Chile.

The large creatures weighed up to 4 tons and could reach 3 meters, leading scientists to believe that they were mass hunted by the inhabitants of the region.

“The hypothesis we work with is that it is about hunts, hunting events,” said Carlos Tornero, an archaeologist who works at the site. “We thought about it because the Gomphothere was a very large and dangerous animal and probably required several people (to hunt it).”

Scientists say the discovery will also allow them to study the broader human impact on the region and how a changing climate affected animals in the area during that time.

“We can get a lot of information from this, for example in regards to climate change, how it affected animals,” said Elisa Calas, an archaeologist who also works at the find site. “The influence that humans had on the environment is very much in line with what’s going on now in terms of the environment.”