SYDNEY - Australian and Indonesian researchers have excavated the 200,000-year-old skeleton of a giant elephant which remained preserved in east Java thanks to its extraordinary death.

A research team from the University of Wollongong (UOW) and Indonesia's Geological Survey Institute was assembled in late April after a sand quarry collapse killed two workers and exposed the bones of the prehistoric elephant.

It took the team four weeks to excavate the exposed bones adjacent to the Solo River.

Research team member and UOW palaeontologist Gert van den Bergh said the discovery was significant for the region.

"It is one of the most complete elephant skeletons recovered in Indonesia," Dr van den Bergh said in a statement.

"(It) is of an extinct species and is of enormous size - much bigger than modern-day Asian elephants, with a femur alone being 1.2 metres long."

Dr van den Bergh said the elephant must have suffered an uncommon demise.

"Normally, such dead animals would have been ripped apart and eaten by carnivores," he said.

"But it appears that the elephant became bogged in the river shallows, perished and was quickly covered by sands - about 200,000 years ago."

The skeleton was excavated, encased in plaster and transported to the Geology Museum in Bandung, West Java.