Although the exact age of the antler has yet to be determined, the position of the remains indicates that the elk (Megaloceros giganteus) lived around 11,000 years ago. The giant deer roamed 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 who found the elk were taking part in a field trip examining the Manx landscape. Dr Peter Davey, Director of the Centre for Manx Studies and Reader in Archaeology at the University who was leading the group at the time, said: “It’s absolutely amazing — most of the time when I come out here with students to demonstrate the structure of the deposits in the cliffs, we only see sediments such as 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 turned out to be an antler.”
As the block was in danger of imminent collapse, which would have crushed the antler, Dr Davey arranged for a team to remove it almost immediately. The antler is now being cleaned, examined and re-constructed by Dr Philippa Tomlinson from the Centre for Manx Studies who is a specialist in fossil and archaeological bone and plant remains.
Environmental historians believe the landscape of the Isle of Man remained suitable for the giant deer for several more hundred years than surrounding islands because of the possible slower rate of colonisation by forest after the Ice Age, before the elk finally became extinct.
The remains, which will now be scientifically dated, could add to growing evidence that giant deer were present on the island much later than palaeozoologists originally thought. The antler was found in a ‘kettle hole’ — a hollow created when blocks of ice melt, now exposed in the eroding the cliff face. Its stratigraphic position, high up in the kettle hole, may provide a later date for the presence of giant deer on the island than previous studies.
The antler, dubbed ‘Erica the Elk’ by the students, will be presented to the Manx Museum. – sd