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West Runton Elephant

Introduction

The story begins on 13 December 1990 when, following a stormy night, local residents Harold and Margaret Hems took a walk on the beach. They found a large bone partly exposed at the bottom of the cliffs, and contacted Norfolk Museums Service. It was identified as a pelvic bone of a large elephant. Just over a year later after another storm, several more huge bones were uncovered. This was obviously a find of major significance, and in January 1992 the first exploratory excavation took place. Once the results of this had been evaluated, a second major 3 month excavation followed in 1995.

 

What had been uncovered was an example of the largest species of elephant that has ever lived, and the largest animal ever to have lived on land except for the very biggest dinosaurs. Standing four metres high at its shoulder, it would have weighed about ten tons – twice the weight of any male African elephant you would find today. It is the largest elephant skeleton ever found and is the oldest elephant skeleton to have been found in the UK (some individual bones or teeth from elsewhere are older, but none make even a partial skeleton). The West Runton Elephant skeleton is also the best example of this species ever to have been found. Previously the best were two partial skeletons, one in Germany and the other in Russia, both only about 10-15% complete. The WRE skeleton is about 85% complete.

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West Runton Elephant

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West Runton Elephant part 3. 1992 Excavations.

The story of the discovery and excavation of the West Runton Elephant.

This dig produced a spectacular collection of sub-fossil bones and tusks of the West Runton Elephant, together with associated sub-fossil animal bones, teeth and antlers and hyaena coprolites (ancient droppings) and resin casts of some of the specimens. Sub-fossil bones are too young to have been strengthened by the fossilisation process, which takes millions of years.

Although known as the West Runton Elephant the animal was actually a steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii), an ancestor of the woolly mammoth and the largest elephant species that has ever lived.

The West Runton Elephant is the most complete specimen of the species to have been discovered in the world. The mammoth dates from the Cromerian stage of the Pleistocene Period, about 700,000 years ago, and is the oldest mammoth skeleton to have been found in the UK. It was excavated from the internationally important fossil-rich West Runton Freshwater Bed, a river sediment that was deposited just before the onset of the Ice Ages. Following the initial discovery of the pelvis in the early 1990s by local amateur geologists who involved Cromer Museum and an emergency partial excavation in 1992, the material was thoroughly excavated in the Autumn and Winter of 1995 by Norwich Castle Museum and the Norfolk Archaeological Unit.

The Mammoth bones were cleaned, conserved, studied and curated between 1996 and 2000 and are now mostly housed in a dedicated storage area together with the associated sub-fossil remains of other animals that were preserved at the site. Obviously due to the size and weight of the material only a few selected bones are on display - in Norwich Castle Museum and Cromer Museum.

The mammoth skeleton is not quite complete; the top of the skull, most of the foot bones, half of the ribs, a tibia (shin bone) and some of the smaller vertebrae are missing. However, the skeleton is still 85 percent complete; the total assemblage of skeletal material is the most complete specimen of this species in the world and includes the only hyoid bone (tongue bone) of the species ever found. The collection of bones and the resin casts enabled the height of the mammoth to be calculated at 4m at shoulder height (the height of a double decker bus) and when alive it would have weighed twice as much as a modern African bull elephant. Examination of the bone assemblage also enabled experts to determine that the mammoth was a 40 year old male; it therefore died in its prime.

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Related Pages

West Runton Elephant

Exhibition: West Runton Elephant

James Stevens no.14 at the October MHE 2008 event

James Stevens no.14

James Stevens no.14 at the October MHE 2008 event

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Ship's compass

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Breeches Buoy

Breeches Buoy

W Hammond's RNLI Certificate

W Hammond's RNLI Certificate

W Hammond's RNLI Certificate

Walton Maritime Museum Volunteers with the James Stephens No.14 in October 2008

Walton Maritime Museum Volunteers

Walton Maritime Museum Volunteers with the James Stephens No.14 in October 2008

black and white photograph of Cromer coxswain Henry Blogg with the Prince of Wales at a presentation ceremony in the Central Hall, Westminster, London

Henry Blogg

black and white photograph of Cromer coxswain Henry Blogg with the Prince of Wales at a presentation ceremony in the Central Hall, Westminster, London

West Runton Elephant. A reconstruction drawing by Sam Brown of the likely appearance of the West Runton elephant.

colour slide

West Runton Elephant. A reconstruction drawing by Sam Brown of the likely appearance of the West Runton elephant.

Gansey knitting stick or shield

Knitting Stick

Gansey knitting stick or shield

Gansey

Propagansey, Cromer Museum 2pm Sat May 18th

Cromer Museum have kindly invited me to come & do my Propagansey talk & display this Satu…