With the news that the skeletons of five Ice Age mammoths have recently been discovered near to Swindon, a discovery that has been celebrated in a BBC programme fronted by David Attenborough––Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard, first showing on 30 December 2021––it got me thinking about another, earlier, mammoth discovery in England. The West Runton Mammoth.
Both the Swindon mammoths and the West Runton one were Steppe Mammoths. These were the largest of the ten species of mammoths currently known. Having evolved in Siberia, the shores of Britain would have been at the far westerly extent of their range. Discovered in the cliffs along the Norfolk shoreline, the West Runton Mammoth is older than the Swindon ones, dating from roughly 700,000 years ago. When alive, the creature would have stood as high as four metres tall and weighed something over ten tonnes.
Very little of the West Runton Mammoth is currently on public exhibition but, just along the coast from West Runton itself, it is possible to view a host of artworks devoted to the great beast in Sheringham, north Norfolk.
The Neolithic Mural was created by David Barber in 2016.
Viewing the mural on a cold winter’s day, with the north wind rushing directly in across the sea from the Arctic, it is easy to imagine the Ice Age conditions that prevailed during some of the period when mammoths walked these lands.
Will mammoths ever walk again? The idea is not altogether fanciful. Bioscience and genetics company Colossal have staked $15M in making the idea reality. They hope to create an elephant-mammoth hybrid by making embryos that carry mammoth DNA. It is anticipated that the first calves might be expected within less than a decade.
There is a certain irony in the fact that we have the science to recreate a Woolly Mammoth able to exist in arctic conditions, while at the same time we are losing so much of that same polar environment to global warming.
© Bradley Dunbar
Bradley Dunbar lives in hope of one day seeing a real Woolly Mammoth.