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Raymond McElroy with the antlers and skull of an Irish Elk recovered from Lough Neagh

Enormous 10,500-Year-Old Antlers of Extinct Giant Elk Pulled from Lake in Northern Ireland

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Fishermen in Northern Ireland had an amazing catch in Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the British Isles, when they retrieved a huge pair of ancient elk antlers. It is estimated that they are about six feet (1.7 meters) wide, much larger than the antlers of any living creature. They are believed to come from the extinct Irish Elk, and it is expected that they can help experts to better understand these huge prehistoric animals and the environment in ancient Europe.

Irish Elk

This Elk (Megaloceros giganteus) has been extinct for many thousands of years and it is also known as the Giant Elk, because of its enormous size and bulk. According to Live Science , the name ‘Irish elk is a bit of a misnomer on both parts, in that they're technically deer, and were found well beyond Ireland’. The species is related to modern deer and was once indigenous to an area from Siberia to Ireland and have even been uncovered in North Africa. The animals became extinct because of environmental change, when its grassland habitat was replaced by dense forests, several thousand years ago.

The Irish Elk by Charles R Knight (public domain)

The Irish Elk by Charles R Knight ( public domain )

The discovery of the antlers

Early one morning some fishermen, Raymond McElroy and Charlie Coy, after a poor night’s fishing on Lough Neagh, in County Tyrone, found that their nets had snagged something large and heavy, but it was evident that it was not a fish.  They were fishing in about 20 feet or six meters of water about half a mile (one and a half kilometerS) from the shore. According to the Irish Times , the fishermen ‘thought their nets had snagged on an old piece of the dead tree’, lying at the bottom of the lake. The two fishermen pulled the net from the waters and to their amazement they found a skull and a set of antlers.

The fishermen were shocked when after some effort they drew the net on board, to see the skull and antlers. At first, they were unsure what to do with the find.  The duo brought the antlers and skulls to a local historian Pat Grimes who photographed and shared the find.

The male and female Irish elk (Cervus megaceros), now extinct (public domain)

The male and female Irish elk (Cervus megaceros), now extinct ( public domain )

The skulls and antlers

Some thirty years ago, a fisherman caught a set of antlers in his net in the same lake, which he donated to a local school, where it is proudly displayed. Another fisherman, some years ago also found the complete jawbone of the Giant Elk and it is estimated to be at least 14,000 years old.  Interestingly, the massive skulls and antlers were caught in the same area of the lake where the jawbone was found. It is leading to speculation that the skull and antlers and the jawbone all belonged to the same animal.

According to Live Science ,  one of the fishermen ‘has the antlers stored in his garage for safe keeping until local authorities decide where the antlers' permanent home will be’. It is expected that in the future that the antlers and skull will be examined, and their date estimated. As of yet, the ultimate destination of the antlers and skulls has not been determined.

An Irish Elk skeleton (CC by SA 2.5)

An Irish Elk skeleton ( CC by SA 2.5 )

The importance of the skull and antlers

The sheer size of the skull and the antlers make the discovery in Lough Neagh important, as they demonstrate the size of the males. It also shows that the environment in Western Europe was one that supported grass plains, the typical habitat of the giant Elk. It is hoped that Lough Neagh could contain more remains of the extinct animal.

Top image: Raymond McElroy with the antlers and skull of an Irish Elk recovered from Lough Neagh. Photo Credit: Philip Walsh

By Ed Whelan

Comments

Just wondering if it was just the loss of natural habitat or the result of human predation or a combination of the two?

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