Manx National Heritage, the organisation responsible for protecting and promoting the Isle of Man’s heritage and culture, is undertaking a detailed study, cleaning and conservation of the Giant Deer (Megaloceros giganteus), one of the most instantly recognisable and iconic items in its collections.
The Giant Deer, commonly known as an Irish Elk because of the many finds in Ireland, was excavated in 1897 from a marl pit at Close y Garey near St Johns. The 1897 excavation team, also known as the ‘Elk Committee’, was led by P.M.C Kermode, who later became the Manx Museum’s first curator. The work was overseen by members of The Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society and The British Association for the Advancement of Science who jointly sponsored the project.
The skeleton is almost complete with just the back of the skull and tail missing at the time of excavation. These have been replaced by modelled plaster. The two large neck bones which were also missing were filled by Irish bones supplied by the British Museum.
The skeleton is 1.7 metres tall at the shoulder, with an antler span of over 2.6 metres. The deer roamed the open tundra landscape of the British Isles towards the end of the last Ice Age, before the islands had separated from each other and from Europe.
The articulated skeleton was originally displayed in the temporary museum at Castle Rushen in 1905 before being transported to the Manx museum in the 1950’s. It currently stands in the museum’s Prehistoric gallery but has previously also been positioned at the entrance, which is now the Museum’s Gallery Shop.
The Giant Deer was moved to Manx National Heritage’s conservation unit on 12th October. Working in partnership with Lucie Graham, the Natural History Conservator from Lancashire Conservation Studios, the conservation programme includes significant laser cleaning as well as extensive repairs to the entire skeleton.
Between 17th and 20th November Steve Allen, who is well known for his work with Jim Henson of Muppets fame and Star Wars’ George Lucas, will be working with Manx National Heritage Education Services to create a life size reproduction of the Giant Deer, with the assistance of local school children using one of the museum’s conference rooms.
Christopher Weeks, Conservator, Manx National Heritage commented:
“Generations of visitors to the Manx Museum have enjoyed the Giant Deer Skeleton and it seems to be one of the most memorable items from childhood visits to the museum. The skeleton is a significant and very complete example that has not been conserved since it was put on display over one hundred years ago. We will be looking to remove past repairs that are failing and ease some of the stresses it has suffered over the course of its display lifetime so that it can be experienced in its best light and enjoyed for future generations.”