Finder of West Runton mammoth skeleton calls for permanent reminder to prehistoric beast

Margaret Hems pictured at West Runton beach, the place she found the West Runton elephant bone in 1990. Pictured with her grandson Josh, 12, and Prof. Tony Stuart.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY Margaret Hems pictured at West Runton beach, the place she found the West Runton elephant bone in 1990. Pictured with her grandson Josh, 12, and Prof. Tony Stuart. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Friday, September 5, 2014
4:15 PM

A natural history enthusiast who discovered the West Runton mammoth skeleton 24 years ago is calling for a permanent memorial to the prehistoric beast.

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Margaret Hems pictured on the dig at West Runton beach, the site where she found the West Runton elephant bone in 1990.
Picture: submittedMargaret Hems pictured on the dig at West Runton beach, the site where she found the West Runton elephant bone in 1990. Picture: submitted

Margaret Hems, 81, who is from the village, uncovered the beast’s large 700,000-year-old pelvic bone protruding from the bottom of the cliffs on December 13, 1990 with her late husband Harold.

Mrs Hems and an expert involved in the mammoth’s excavation say proper recognition – perhaps in the form of a dedicated centre – is overdue.

Mr and Mrs Hems decided to look for prehistoric bones and fossils on the beach after warnings of a high tide at Blakeney on the day of the find.

Mrs Hems, from Renwick Park West, said a man was looking at the bone but walked away. She said: “I thought it might look nice on my mantelpiece but as I started digging it got bigger and bigger.

Margaret Hems pictured on the dig at West Runton beach, the site where she found the West Runton elephant bone in 1990. Pictured with her late husband Harold.
Picture: submittedMargaret Hems pictured on the dig at West Runton beach, the site where she found the West Runton elephant bone in 1990. Pictured with her late husband Harold. Picture: submitted

“It was very exciting, especially when it turned out there was more. I didn’t realise at the time how important it was going to be. It was internationally famous.”

More bones were discovered in 1991, and in 1995 a three-month excavation found 85pc of the beast’s skeleton – making it the most complete example of its species ever found in the world.

Some of the bones are on show in the Cromer Museum and Norwich Castle Museum but the bulk of the skeleton is in storage at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, including the pelvis which is in five sections.

A full-sized plywood mammoth model attracted hundreds of people to West Runton beach last month when it was “walked” along the sand.

It was the idea of Suzie Lay and created by Jeremy Moore, who hope it will appear at museums and venues around Norfolk.

Mrs Hems, whose husband died in 2012 aged 90, added: “I would like to see a proper centre where the model mammoth could be set up and where there are facilities for people to study. Harold was keen to have a permanent reminder created. He loved to pass on knowledge.”

Her husband was a maths teacher at the former Cromer High School and gave talks about the find.

Mrs Hems, who has three children and six grandchildren, said many people continued to visit West Runton to find out more about the prehistoric creature and she felt apologetic when she told them a few bones could be viewed at Cromer and Norwich.

She thought it would be good to display the original bones in a permanent memorial.

The only sign of the discovery is a mammoth symbol on the village sign.

Palaeontology expert Prof Tony Stuart, involved in the 1995 dig, said the skeleton was important because it revealed information about the environment 700,000 years ago.

He said: “There should be a first-class display about the whole thing.”

Louise O’Shea, Seaview Beach Café manager near West Runton beach, said people from abroad visited because of the mammoth, and a life-sized replica skeleton should be built near the beach.

■ What do you think? Email sophie.wyllie@archant.co.uk

1 comment

  • It does make one wonder what else lies beneath our cliffs awaiting to be found.. Like the idea of a visitor centre and also organised digs to see what else lies under there.. Fascinating to think of these incredible creatures roaming the land we all now live on

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    Crabby

    Thursday, September 4, 2014

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