The skeleton of a prehistoric deer has been recovered from the shore near Kirk Michael on the Isle of Man. Sharp-eyed members of the public reported the discovery to the Manx Museum and the remains were excavated by a team from Manx National Heritage early in February.
Periods of onshore storms and heavy rain can cause the cliffs in the area to collapse, and in recent months several areas have been weakened by poor weather, causing sand and gravel to be washed down the face of the cliff. Occasionally large blocks of silt and clay break off, and on hitting the beach, one of these blocks broke open, revealing the deer’s skeleton. A substantial part of the skeleton was present, though the skull and antlers were missing.
Following reports of their discovery, the remains were excavated immediately due to their vulnerability.
Laura McCoy, curator of natural history, said:
“We were told that many bones were visible, and were concerned that we might lose everything to the tide. We were also conscious that a find like this might quickly attract souvenir hunters once it became known.”
The cliffs around Kirk Michael are a geological cross-section of gravels, sands, silts and clays which began to be laid down as the last ice age was ending, just a few tens of thousands of years ago. Until about 10,000 years ago, the climate and landscape suited great deer, in part because of the availability of minerals which helped them grow a strong skeleton and antlers. Some of those minerals were derived from marsh plants, which sometimes attracted the deer to waterlogged ground from which they could not escape.
Archaeologist Andy Johnson said:
“It’s the first time I’ve seen such a complete set of remains in the ground. Normally you wouldn’t expect bone to survive for this long, but it has been preserved because this particular geological deposit is rich in calcium. It’s a thick deposit of silt or marl, and it also contains large quantities of plant material: this is especially exciting as it offers the opportunity to find out precisely what species were growing and what the environment and landscape looked like. All of these bones and plant remains also offer the possibility of getting accurate radiocarbon dates.”
It is more common for antlers and individual bones to be observed and collected on this stretch of coast, and MNH staff are very keen that any similar finds are reported to the Manx Museum in Douglas.
Laura McCoy, Natural History Curator added:
“We’re very grateful that the public got in touch with us so promptly. Ancient ecological and archaeological remains are very important and we’d like to encourage people who regularly walk a length of the coast and know it well, to report anything unusual that they see.”
Two other complete or near-complete deer skeletons have previously been discovered on the Island. One, found in Ballaugh in 1819, was claimed by the Duke of Atholl (as Lord of Man) and is on show at the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The other deer was excavated near St John’s in 1897 and is on display at the Manx Museum in Douglas. It was recently the subject of a project to carefully clean and remount the skeleton led by MNH conservator Chris Weeks.
The newly-discovered remains have already attracted the interest of a number of university and museum specialists and over the coming months will be cleaned in readiness for further study and analysis.
For further information, please contact: Lynsey Clague, Manx National Heritage
Tel: 01624 648032