Sunday, April 17, 2011
Karl Shuker on Mammoths-CFZ REPOST
This is interesting because it seems the last British Mammoths were washed into a cave hole, five adults at once, at a date which seems to correspond to the Younger Dryas (C-14 dates are disputed in this case as well and are so disputed generally for the event owing to the fact that the event itself changed the C-14 proportion in the atmosphere) This is from the CFZ blog where both Karl and I post regularly. The Copyright to the article belongs to Karl Shuker and it is reproduced without profit for educational purposes. Monday, 7 February 2011 WHEN THE MAMMOTHS CAME TO TOWN A mammoth discovery in Shropshire! (Dr Karl Shuker) [I wrote the original version of this article - one of my earliest publications - in March 1987, and it appeared later that year in a now long-defunct British monthly magazine called The Unknown. In order to maintain its then-current, now-historical flavour, I am republishing it here in largely unchanged form (except where newer information and discoveries have required some minor updating of material). I wish to thank the Shropshire Star newspaper most sincerely for very kindly supplying me with a photograph of some of the mammoths' remains for inclusion in this article.] When (if?) the good weather returns, I plan to visit the Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre at Craven Arms, near Ludlow, ensconced in some of England's most beautiful countryside, in order to see the life-sized replica of a certain, very special Ice Age mammal – and, in so doing, revisit an extraordinary discovery that I first documented way back in 1987. Allow me to explain. One of the most remarkable yet unexpected palaeontological finds of modern times in England took place in the county of Shropshire, and involved a discovery of truly mammoth proportions. The Shropshire saga began inauspiciously at the end of September 1986 during a session of excavations by contractors working in an ARC Western-owned sand and gravel quarry at Condover, a small village just north of Shrewsbury. Quarryman Maurice Baddeley was using a dragline to scoop up clay and peat sediment from the quarry's upper surface in order to reach the gravel underneath, piling the removed sediment into a towering pinnacle for subsequent levelling. During this activity, his dragline's bucket drew up from a muddy pond a long, stiff object that Mr Baddeley initially dismissed as a metal or wooden post, probably a telegraph pole, and tipped onto the sediment pile. Upon later, closer observation, however, just prior to the pile being demolished, he realised that this `pole' was actually a gigantic bone – measuring 4-5 ft long! At this same time, Eve and Glyn Roberts of nearby Bayston Hill were walking their dogs here and saw the bone. Realising that it might be something important, Eve lost no time in telephoning the Shropshire Museums Service, and relayed what they had seen to the County Museums Officer, Geoff McCabe, who promptly sent out a team to investigate. To their great surprise and delight, the team discovered that the intriguing object was nothing less than a limb bone from a woolly mammoth Mammuthus primigenius – that hairy elephantine epitome of the Ice Ages. Naturally the scientists immediately combined forces with the contractors to monitor future digging in the hope of disinterring further remains - with deserved success. For during the next week, 18 more specimens were obtained, including various vertebrae and a jawbone bearing two enormous teeth. Fossil remains, even when as massive as those of mammoths, are unexpectedly fragile when unearthed. Hence to ensure their continued survival, the precious Shropshire specimens were swiftly transferred to nearby Ludlow Museum, where they could not only be more precisely identified and age-determined but also be carefully cleaned of debris, shielded from harmful sunlight, and allowed to dry very slowly to prevent distortion. Meanwhile, the regular media reports concerning the mammoth's discovery, as featured in the Shropshire Star in particular, had incited very considerable public interest - resulting in the brief unveiling of these remains for a press conference and photo-session held at the local Acton Scott Farm Museum on 7 October. FORMAL SCIENTIFIC EXCAVATION Among the scientific representatives present at the conference was Dr Russell Coope - Reader in Palaeontological Sciences at the University of Birmingham. On the morning of 9 October (and subsequently working in conjunction with mammoth expert Dr Adrian Lister of the University of Cambridge), Dr Coope led the first formal scientific excavation at the quarry seeking more mammoth remains. Moreover, news of this most significant search had already travelled beyond Shropshire, because the BBC's long-running children's television show `Blue Peter' was represented on site by presenter Mark Curry and an attendant film crew, recording the excavation for inclusion within a future episode (which was screened on 30 October). The four-day dig (financed by ARC and the Shropshire County Council) brought together a team of scientists from the University of Birmingham and the Shropshire Museums Service plus numerous enthusiastic local volunteers. Their principal focus of attention was the 20-ft-high sediment pile already hewn out of the quarry by the draglines, because it was this sediment that had originally contained the mammoth's skeleton - and from which, therefore, the team hoped to disinter and disentangle it, piece by piece. AN OVERWHELMING SUCCESS By the end of Day 1, even the most optimistic expectations had been exceeded, because a tally of more than 50 specimens - ranging from tiny wafers of tusk fragments to entire limb bones - had been unearthed! These were lightened by removing loose debris, and each specimen was then delicately packed separately within an opaque, fully-labelled bag for direct transportation to Ludlow Museum for identification and preservation. Deer and insect remains, as well as pollen samples, were also collected. Remains from the Shropshire mammoths (courtesy of the Shropshire Star) The search ended on 13 October, and proved to have been an overwhelming success, because with more than 200 separate bags of fossilised remains, it seemed certain that almost the entire mammoth skeleton had been obtained. Pride of place within the collection, however, was surely the pelvic girdle, because part of it was obtained intact as a single, massive, and substantially heavy portion bearing one complete acetabulum (the socket for femur articulation) and obturator foramen (a large gap between the pubis and ischium bones on each side of the pelvic girdle in mammals). Nevertheless, there was even more exciting news to be disclosed. NOT ONE, BUT FIVE! Put quite simply, scientific examination of the collection obtained at that point (as well as during three subsequent excavations, the last one spanning 15 June to 3 July 1987) ultimately revealed the presence of not one but five mammoths! One was an adult (originally thought to be a female, but confirmed by Russian scientist Vac Garutt at the Leningrad Museum of Science in 1988 to be a male), believed to have been 30-32 years old when it died. The other four were juveniles. Three were each represented by a largely complete lower jaw and various other remains. Two of these latter three juveniles were 3-4 years old, and appeared to be of opposite sexes. The third was larger, and was aged 5-6 years old. One of the 3-4-year-olds was found during the first dig, as was the 5-6-year-old, whereas the other 3-4-year-old came to light during the summer 1987 dig, as did the fourth juvenile, thought to be 4-5 years old. Prior to continued scrutiny, however, it was imperative that their fossilised remains be cleaned thoroughly to remove as much tenacious debris as possible. So to ensure effective washing, an outdooor area normally reserved for the cleaning of public transport vehicles was utilised! Not surprisingly, on 1 November this singular event attracted a large crowd of spectators. The scientific team estimated that approximately 80 per cent of the total skeletal content of the mammoths had been obtained during the recent excavation. Nevertheless, one major item was stil1 missing - the adult mammoth's skull. Undaunted, the team decided to instigate a second search, and once again, following a public appeal for local volunteers, a sizeable party was assembled, wielding a formidable armoury of shovels and spades. Yet sadly, despite a most valiant and determined effort sustained throughout the weekend of 15-16 November, the skull was not located, although several additional minor bones were unearthed. A third excavation took place not long afterwards, with a fourth, final dig taking place the following summer, but the skull was never found. As suggested by Geoffrey McCabe, it may have been removed soon after the adult's death by human contemporaries. FUTURE DESTINATION Even without the skull, however, the Shropshire specimens still constituted one of the most comprehensive collections of mammoth skeletons ever discovered. Indeed, the County Museums Service hoped to retain them to form the centre-piece of an extensive educational exhibition, depicting the appearance of Shropshire during the Ice Ages when inhabited by mammoths. In turn, this would also greatly benefit local tourism. Conversely, in view of their national scientific significance, it was equally possible that they may be taken for permanent display in London. Thus in December 1986, a local conference was held to discuss the mammoths' future destination, attended by Shropshire Council members, ARC representatives, and Drs Coope and Lister. To the Shropshire community's delight, it was decided that the collection should be retained locally, for the planned Ice Age exhibition. Furthermore, ARC gave permission for future digging in 1987 in pursuit of any further remains (including the adult mammoth's elusive skull), and pledged financial participation in subsequent scientific studies upon the bones already obtained. Moreover, in March 1987 the entire collection was transported to the University of Birmingham for research purposes. The Shropshire mammoths' scientific debut - via a formal paper written by Coope and Lister and published in the scientific journal Nature on 3 December 1987 - was certainly one of the most thrilling episodes in British palaeontology for very many years, supplemented by continuing detailed studies. Even so, although certainly not the types of fossil to be found every day of the week, mammoth remains have been uncovered in the UK before - so why were the Shropshire mammoths of especial importance? This can be readily answered as follows. PHENOMENAL COLLECTION British remains of mammoths and other fossil elephants almost invariably consist of a few bones, teeth, or fragments. Furthermore, a large proportion of these originate from the London region, although a notable find took place in Nottinghamshire during summer 1986, when two huge proboscidean (probably mammoth) limb bones were hauled up by an excavator during the construction of a car-park at Worksop's Bassetlaw Hospital. Consequently, the discovery together of a largely complete adult mammoth skeleton and no less than four partially complete juveniles is truly phenomenal. Indeed, possibly the only British find in any way comparable to this within modern times was the unearthing in the early 1960s during excavations at an Aveley quarry in Essex of a virtually entire mammoth skeleton. Beneath this was a similarly near-complete skeleton of a straight-tusked elephant Palaeoloxodon antiquus, which by sheer coincidence had died on the very same spot (but undoubtedly several millennia before the mammoth - for the two species were not contemporaries). Needless to say, this unexpected but very remarkable find quickly brought a team from the British Museum (Natural History) to the site to remove the collection for preservation and study. YOUNGEST BRITISH MAMMOTHS During the last Ice Age (Weichsel/Würm glaciation), spanning the period 80,000-10,000 years BP (Before Present Day) when M. primigenius still roamed Britain, Shropshire was a birch-dominated tundra interspersed with sparse vegetation and clay-walled marsh-like pools created by melting subterranean ice left stranded by retreating glaciers. Dr Coope opined that the Shropshire mammoths may have wandered into one such pool while seeking vegetation. Although all elephants can swim, they cannot climb steep inclines such as the pool's walls. Consequently, the mammoths would have perished - a tragic end for such majestic creatures. Coope explained that their remains were discovered between an upper layer of peat (shown to have been deposited 10,000 years ago) and a lower layer of glacial gravel (deposited 18,000 years ago) - another clue to the Shropshire mammoths' especial importance. More precise analysis of the bones themselves, via carbon-dating techniques, yielded an age of approximately 12,800 years BP. Hence, as Coope announced to the media, the Shropshire mammoths were not only the most complete but also, by around 5000 years, the youngest mammoths so far discovered in Britain and had survived beyond the coldest stage of the last Ice Age. In June 2009, Lister revealed that a new, even more accurate method of radiocarbon dating applied to the remains by researchers from the British Museum (Natural History) had yielded a date of 14,000 BP, but this still meant that they were Britain's youngest mammoths. In addition, it was suggested that they might even participate at some future stage in one of the most remarkable fields of mammoth-related zoological research currently in progress - the cloning of mammoth DNA. The raw materials (muscles, soft tissues) for this revolutionary work are normally obtained from ice-entombed specimens obtained in Siberia. However, Prof. Alan Wilson of the University of California suggested that the Shropshire specimens may be sufficiently well-preserved to possess samples of soft tissue capable of being used for DNA cloning purposes, and he duly made contact with the Shropshire team to discover more concerning this exciting possibility. In short, the mammoths of Shrewsbury certainly appear set to occupy a prominent position within future scientific research for some considerable time to come. During 1988, I visited the temporary but exciting exhibition of the Shropshire mammoth remains (which also included an excellent full-sized replica of a woolly mammoth, created by Roby Braun) that was held at Cosford Aerospace Museum, just outside Wolverhampton, from 1 April to 30 October of that year. The exhibition was subsequently staged in Derbyshire, Lancashire, and Newcastle upon Tyne, before closing in August 1991. The replica mammoth now resides within the Secret Hills exhibition at the Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre in Craven Arms, whereas the Shropshire mammoth bones are ensconced in Ludlow Museum and Resource Centre, and are recognised to be the third most complete remains of woolly mammoths to have been discovered anywhere in Europe. Not a bad outcome for a `telegraph pole' that had been dug up by chance and then tipped unceremoniously onto a pile of sediment. After I saw Karl's original posting, I added this extended commentary in my own group: Before the modern explanation of the Ice Ages took hold, in Victorian days, the generally-accepted explanation was that the Ice Age deposits were "Diluvium", deposited by Noah's deluge. At that time, the large numbers of animal bones found jammed into caves in Ice-age deposits were considered to be large numbers of animals seeking refuge from rising flood waters or washed in by wave action. In many cases, that explanation will not work, and primarily because there are many distinct strata involved, of different mineral deposits, different chemical composition, and obviously laid down at different times. However,in certain locations including Bermuda, Gibraltar and Malta, the condition of the deposits do seem to indicate inrushing sea waves brought in large quantities of dead animals and birds, trees, and including seashells in the deposit. The question asked in olden days was, whatever could have knocked the birds from the skies at the same time as the debris were being washed into these caves? and there was a readily-supplied answer in Noah's deluge. One of the more important books on the notion was published in 1823 by William Buckland, under the title of Reliquae Diluvianae (Relics of The Flood) and included many examples of caves in England where it seemed the animal remains had been washed in by wave action at a recent date. Another such work was Joseph Prestwich's publication in 1895, On Certain Phenomena Belonging to the Close of the Last Geological Period and Their Bearing Upon the Tradition of the Flood. This also included many accounts of animal bones jammed into caves and rock-fissures in the UK, North America, France and Italy, and on the Mediterranean islands includig Corsica and Sardinia. Prestwich theorized that a wave from the ocean had submerged Western Europe to a depth of at least 1000 feet; and the same thing must've happened to Eastern North America, and in the Arctic in Alaska and Siberia where the mammoths were also killed in large quantities at the same date (Charles Darwin later noted that the large animals of South America must have died at the same time and in order for that to have happened the event 'Must shake the framework of the entire world') So basically, that evidence still exists and has NOT been explained away by later authorities, nor yet can it be explained away so long as we keep getting the same general Younger Dryas C-14 dates on all of these animal remains. (Prestwich did also find evidence for the wave in the Neolithic age, but from deposits along the Atlantic coast of North America, including the "Garden Clays" of New York City and several caves in the South, this clay layer is later and distinctive. The Southern examples have a clay layer that is a bright orange and covers pottery dating to about 1200-1500 BC.)So there was also a secondary event which confused things, but that still does nothing to invalidate the evidence for a large sea-wave covering the land up to 1000 feet in altitude at the very end of the Ice Age, at a date often stated to be 10000 BC (in round figures). Best Wishes, Dale D.