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Manx History Degree Students Discover 11,000 Year Old Remains of an Irish Elk 8 November 2005

    A group of students studying the History degree course at the Isle of Man College discovered the antler of a giant deer (aka Irish Elk) (Megaloceros giganteus) in the cliffs near Kirk Michael on Saturday last. Although the exact age of the antler has yet to be determined, the position of the remains indicate that the Elk lived around 11,000 years ago.

    The giant deer roamed and grazed in the open tundra landscape that was widespread in northern Europe at the end of the last Ice Age, as the glaciers retreated northwards.

    The students were undertaking a field trip under the leadership of Peter Davey (Director of the Centre for Manx Studies and Reader in Archaeology at the University of Liverpool) looking at the Manx Landscape to underpin their historical studies.

    11,000 Year Old Irish Elk RemainsThe antler was from an animal similar to the skeleton on display in the Manx Museum. Such remains are found in the Isle of Man from time to time in locations suitable for their preservation.

    Dr Davey said

    “it is absolutely amazing – of all the times I’ve been out here with groups of students to demonstrate the structure of the deposits in the cliffs, most times the students only see sediments (gravels, sands, muds and peats). I just scraped the surface of the fallen cliff section, which was in a block that had recently slid down the cliff, and uncovered an orange streak which on further investigation turned out to be antler.”

    As there was a possibility of immanent collapse of the block which would have crushed the antler, Dr Davey arranged for a team to remove it on Sunday 30th October. The antler is now being cleaned, examined and re-constructed by Dr Philippa Tomlinson of the Centre for Manx Studies who is a specialist in fossil and archaeological bone and plant remains. A recent study of the dating of the extinction of Giant Deer in western Europe, carried out by a team based at the British Museum and John Moores University in Liverpool, has dated some of the Manx specimens in the Museum, but Dr Silvia Gonzalez, at John Moores, is already keen to date this particular specimen as it may provide us with the latest date for giant deer on the island so far, because of its stratigraphic position in the kettle hole.

    It is thought by environmental historians that the landscape of the IOM remained suitable for the giant deer for several hundred years later than surrounding islands because of the possible slower rate of colonisation by forest after the ice age, before it finally became extinct.

    The antler, unfortunately dubbed ‘Erica the Elk’ by the students (as Megaloceros giganteus was a species of deer not elk!), will be presented to the Manx Museum in due course and a report is being prepared.

    For further information on the antlers contact the Centre for Manx Studies (673074) or for further information about the degree course contact Dr. Ian Killip at the Isle of Man College (648227 or via email: ian.killip@iomcollege.ac.im).

    Photo of group examining the antlers after recovery from the cliff. From left to right (students unless stated otherwise) Paul Quayle, Carole Coole, Carol Hayes, Cherie Collier, Peter Davey (Director of the Centre for Manx Studies), Peter Bond and Stephen Harrison (Director of Manx National Heritage) .

    8th November 2005

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