KOSTOLAC, Serbia -- First there was one. Then another. And another.
Archaeologists in Serbia say they have discovered a rare mammoth field containing the remains of at least five of the giant beasts that lived here tens of thousands of years ago.
The discovery last week at the Kostolac coal mine, east of the Serbian capital of Belgrade, is the first of its kind in the region. It could offer important insight into the ice age in the Balkans, said Miomir Korac from Serbia's Archaeology Institute.
"There are millions of mammoth fragments in the world, but they are rarely so accessible for exploration," he told The Associated Press.
"A mammoth field can offer incredible information and shed light on what life looked like in these areas during the ice age."
The remains were found during coal excavation about 20 meters (yards) below ground. Korac said the mammoth field stretches over some 20 acres of sandy terrain.
In 2009, a well-preserved skeleton of a much older mammoth was found at the same site. Vika – as the female skeleton was dubbed – is up to one million years old and belonged to the furless, so-called southern mammoth.
The bones discovered last month likely belong to the so-called woolly mammoth, which disappeared some 10,000 years ago, said Sanja Alaburic, a mammoth expert from Serbia's Museum of Natural History.
Alaburic explained that "this discovery is interesting because, unusually, there are many bones in one place," probably brought there by torrential waters.
Korac said Serbian archaeologists already have contacted colleagues in France and Germany for consultation. He said at least six months of work will be needed before all the bones are unearthed.
Another mammoth skeleton was discovered in northern Serbia in 1996. It belonged to a female mammoth that lived about 500,000 years ago and is now on display in the town of Kikinda, near the Hungarian border.
Jovana Gec contributed.