Video and photo gallery: The West Runton elephant walks again - after 700,000 years

The West Runton elephant lumbers his way across the beach. Picture: PAUL DAMEN The West Runton elephant lumbers his way across the beach. Picture: PAUL DAMEN

Thursday, August 14, 2014
11:03 AM

One small step for a Norfolk mammoth, one giant leap for the public imagination.

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Hundreds of people crowded West Runton beach yesterday afternoon to watch the area’s world-famous former resident take his first walk in 700,000 years.

A full-sized plywood-and-pine model of the West Runton elephant loped his way along the sands towards the spot in the cliffs where his partially-fossilised bones were uncovered some 24 years ago.

Toddlers on granddads’ shoulders, locals, visitors, geologists, museum chiefs, and archaeologists, all joined the bucket and spade brigade to beam, cheer and clap as the giant’s there-and-back walk of about 200 yards began and ended.

Harnessed inside two of his legs were Jeremy Moore, who created the mammoth model, and Suzie Lay, whose vision seven years ago inspired the whole project.

The West Runton Elephant scale model is walked along the bottom of the cliffs where the original's bones had lain for 750,000 years, marking the fulfilment of a personal crusade by Suzie Lay (pictured). Picture by SIMON FINLAY.The West Runton Elephant scale model is walked along the bottom of the cliffs where the original's bones had lain for 750,000 years, marking the fulfilment of a personal crusade by Suzie Lay (pictured). Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

For Ms Lay, 48, events co-ordinator at Great Yarmouth’s Tide and Tide Museum, today’s successful beach ramble was a dream come true.

Back in 2007 she was given a fascinating tour of the prehistoric beast’s bones, stored in Norfolk Museums Service’s Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, and left determined to see him walk again.

So she got in touch with an old friend, aviation engineer Mr Moore, 46, from Martham, who jumped at the challenge of designing a diffent kind of “jumbo”, devoting four months of voluntary work to the project.

“I’m so chuffed,” he said after the walk. “Kids who have seen this are going to grow up and ask questions about the whole Norfolk archaeology scene.”

The West Runton Elephant scale model is walked along the bottom of the cliffs where the original's bones had lain for 750,000 years, marking the fulfilment of a personal crusade by Suzie Lay. William Jewers(7) with his grandad Terry Cutler and his own elephant.
Picture by SIMON FINLAY.The West Runton Elephant scale model is walked along the bottom of the cliffs where the original's bones had lain for 750,000 years, marking the fulfilment of a personal crusade by Suzie Lay. William Jewers(7) with his grandad Terry Cutler and his own elephant. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Ms Lay, who has christened the mammoth Hugh Mongous, said she was delighted and overwhelmed at the public response to the walk.

“Twenty years ago his bones were excavated from the base of a cliff on this beach.

“I wanted to bring a sense of the spirit of the elephant as a living animal, the day after World Elephant Day.

“It’s been a fantastic collaboration between engineering and the imagination - a mammoth project, and a lot of fun,” she added.

A steppe mammoth (West Runton elephant). Picture: DAVID M WATERHOUSE.A steppe mammoth (West Runton elephant). Picture: DAVID M WATERHOUSE.

“They say elephants never forget, and we will never forget the West Runton elephant.”

William Jewers, seven, from Sheringham, brought along his soft toy woolly mammoth, called “Mammoth” to meet his prehistoric real-life counterpart.

“I thought he would be exactly like he is, but with a fur coat on,” said William, who is an avid fossil collector.

Maurice Reeder, 70, from Horningtoft, was also impressed: “It’s absolutely brilliant. I kept saying to my grandchildren, ‘Think about walking along and bumping into that. You would turn tail and run,’” he said.

West Runton elephant facts

■ The West Runton elephant dates from about 700,000 years ago.

■ About 85pc of the male animal’s skeleton has been found, making it the most complete specimen in the world, and the oldest mammoth skeleton in the UK.

■ The elephant, a steppe mammoth, was about 4m high to its shoulder - as tall as a double-decker bus.

■ It weighed about 10 tons - twice the weight of a modern African male elephant.

■ Experts estimate that he was about 40 and “in his prime” when he died.

■ Research has revealed that he had a severe injury to one knee which may have made it impossible for him to stand up when he was down, leading to his death.

■ His pelvic bone was discovered after a December storm in 1990 by local residents Harold and Margaret Hems who were out on a beach walk.

■ A major excavation was carried out in 1995. Most of the skeleton is in special storage at the Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. The lower jaw is displayed in Norwich Castle Museum, and a small exhibition about the find is on display at Cromer Museum.

But geologist Martin Warren, former curator of Cromer Museum, said no evidence had yet been found to prove that man had been in West Runton at the time of the mammoth.

When the beast roamed the area, Britain had been joined to the continent by a land bridge and West Runton was not on the coast.

Instead, the elephant would have crashed his way through a shallow river valley surrounded by dense vegetation, both in the water and on the banks, with a tanglewood forest further away.

He may have shared West Runton with species including rhino, beaver, panther, wild cat, and a now-extinct land otter.

Glyn Williams, North Norfolk District Council’s cabinet member for leisure and cultural services, said the event had been a great opportunity to promote the area, not just for its great beaches, but also its amazing geological history.

Organisers hope the mammoth model will appear in future at museums and other venues around the county.

1 comment

  • Saw this on TV last night. It looked absolutely fantastic (the trunk was amazing) so well done to all those involved.

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    DWW25

    Thursday, August 14, 2014

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