View Full Version : Irish Elk

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020, 08:41 PM
Antlers of extinct giant Irish Elk found at the bottom of a lake

Magnificent animal roamed the country 7,000 years ago and then died out

Fishermen Raymond McElroy and Charlie Coyle (https://www.irishtimes.com/topics/topics-7.1213540?article=true&tag_person=Charlie+Coyle) thought their nets had snagged on an old piece of dead tree at the bottom of Lough Neagh. It had been a bad night’s fishing and when they ventured out to their nets on the lake at 4.30am, they found they had caught no fish, yet the net was straining. It took two of them all their strength to lift the net from the lough floor. By the weight, they figured it might be a piece of a dead tree snagged at the bottom.

Instead, it was the perfectly preserved antlers of a giant Irish elk. Now extinct, this magnificent animal stood more than two metres tall and had antlers of up to four metres in diameter. Though called the Irish elk because their skeletons have been found in the bogs of Ireland (https://www.irishtimes.com/news), they roamed across most of northern Europe (https://www.irishtimes.com/topics/topics-7.1213540?article=true&tag_location=Europe), but died out 7,000 years ago in mysterious circumstances.

One of the largest collections of such deer is in the National History Museum in Dublin.

Mr Coyle said he got a fright when the two metre wide antlers came out of the water. “I thought it was the devil himself. I was going to throw it back in. I didn’t know what to do with it.”

Mr McElroy said he recognised straight away that it was the antlers of a giant Irish elk. The jawbone of possibly the same animal was recovered from the lake in 2014. The antlers are now in his garage awaiting a new home. He is seeking interested parties from what had been a fishing trip that will live long in the memory.

The skull and antlers once belonged to a now extinct ancient species known as the “Irish elk” (Megaloceros giganteus). The skull and antlers measure about six feet across, which gives a sense of just how enormous these creatures were when they once roamed the earth. Indeed, the Irish elk was one of the largest species of deer to ever exist. This species has now been extinct for more than 10,000 years.

The name “Irish elk” is a misleading one, however, as these creatures are neither elks nor exclusively found in Ireland. These massive animals are technically categorized as deer (https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/mammal/artio/irishelk.html)and could be found in Europe, Asia, and Africa when they were still alive. The “Irish elk” name comes from the fact that the remains of these creatures are most commonly found in the lakes and bogs of Ireland — more often than in other parts of the world.


Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, where the fishermen found the Irish elk skull and antlers.

According to Mike Simms, a paleontologist at the Ulster Museum in Belfast, these deer were once able to live in the Irish grass plains when the weather and environment suited them.

“It’s the first really good one I have seen in 20 years,” Simms said of the latest find in an interview with BelfastLive (https://www.belfastlive.co.uk/news/belfast-news/fisherman-pulls-skull-extinct-great-15116923). “They’ve been extinct since 10,500 to 11,000 years ago in Ireland.” When forests began to grow, their massive antlers didn’t allow them to navigate as easily as they did when the roamed the open plains. Simms said that “giant antlers aren’t great in the forest,” and ultimately, “Environmental change is what caused their extinction.”


A PBS segment on the Irish elk, which includes depictions of what the creature may have looked like.

There have been other Irish elk remains found at this same lake. In 1987, a fisherman named Felix Conlon discovered a set of antlers attached to a skull, which he later gave to a local school to display. Then in 2014, another fisherman named Martin Kelly found a lower jawbone from an Irish elk at Lough Neagh lake that was estimated to be at least 14,000 years old — not far from the same spot where McElroy and Coyle found their Irish elk skull. McElroy believes that the lower jawbone actually might match with the elk skull he just discovered, although experts haven’t yet confirmed this theory.

The Irish Times (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/antlers-of-extinct-giant-irish-elk-found-at-the-bottom-of-a-lake-1.3620791). 10 VI 2020.

Lough Neagh is the largest lake in the British Isles 19 m X 9.3 m / 151 sq m or 30 km X 15 km 392 sq km. The water level is regulated by a lough gate to eliminate seasonal flooding.

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020, 10:23 PM
I wouldn't want to hit one of those with a car.