Four members of the gang, from the Limerick county town of Rathkeale, faced the charges along with an international network of British, Vietnamese and British nationals, after a major investigation into illegal trafficking between Europe and East Asia.
The investigation was first opened in 2015, when French customs caught three members of the Rathkeale Rovers attempting to smuggle four elephant tusks across the border along with over €32,000 in cash; the men at first claimed to be antique dealers, but this was quickly found out to be a lie.
French police then discovered two workshops operating on French soil which were illegally processing raw ivory and rhino horns.
In May 2016, investigators discovered a further 14 raw ivory tusks of African origin and 2 worked tusks, followed by the discovery of a rhinoceros horn “of exceptional weight” being held by two brothers of Irish and English origin.
The defendants were liable to between 3 to 10 years imprisonment and fines of €75,000 to €750,000 up to 10 times the domestic market value of the seizures.
On 8 September, the four Irish and Englishmen known to be members of the Rathkeale Rovers clan were given sentences ranging from one year suspended to 4 years in prison, one of which was suspended.
However, none of the Rathkeale Rovers members were present at the hearings, and arrest warrants have been issued against the two men who had been sentenced to serve time in prison.
A Vietnamese national, who was found to be holding 16 elephant tusks, 20 seahorses and 23 certificates corresponding to elephant tusks that were no longer on his premises, was sentenced to 4 years in prison, 2 of which were suspended.
We see other sites with bone tools at this time. But there isn’t this variety of well-defined shapes,” said Dr. Paola Villa, an adjoint curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History and a researcher at the Istituto Italiano di Paleontologia Umana.
Dr. Villa and colleagues examined artifacts from Castel di Guido, an open-air archaeological site about 20 km from Rome, on the southern side of the Monti Sabatini volcanic complex.
The site was excavated between 1979 and 1991 on an area of 1,100 m2. The excavations produced a large number of faunal remains and artifacts (all small and large tools plus cores, percussors and unretouched flakes).
“Hundreds of thousands of years ago, it was the location of a gully that had been carved by an ephemeral stream, an environment where straight-tusked elephants (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) quenched their thirst and, occasionally, died,” the archaeologists said.
“The Castel di Guido hominids made good use of the remains, occupying the site off and on over the years.”
“They produced tools using a systematic, standardized approach, a bit like a single individual working on a primitive assembly line.”
In the study, the researchers identified a total of 98 elephant bone tools from the Castel di Guido site.
Some tools were pointed and could, theoretically, have been used to cut meat. Others were wedges that may have been helpful for splitting heavy elephant femurs and other long bones.
But one tool stood out from the rest: a single artifact carved from a wild cattle bone that was long and smooth at one end.
It resembles what archaeologists call a ‘lissoir,’ or a smoother, a type of tool that hominids used to treat leather. Lissoir tools didn’t become common until about 300,000 years ago.