Mammoth tooth found on West Runton beach

Aylmerton Field Study Centre trainee instructor Niall Thorogood, 21, who found a baby mammoth tooth

Aylmerton Field Study Centre trainee instructor Niall Thorogood, 21, who found a baby mammoth tooth on West Runton Beach.Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

It looks just like an odd shaped stone. But a lump of rock discovered on the north Norfolk coast last month has been identified as the tooth of a creature which last roamed the earth 700,000 years ago - the mammoth.

How the West Runton mammoth might have looked. CREDIT: David M Waterhouse

How the West Runton mammoth might have looked. CREDIT: David M Waterhouse - Credit: David M Waterhouse

Treasure hunter Niall Thorogood made the discovery while combing the beach at West Runton.

And it has been authenticated by paleontologist Nigel Larkin, who was involved in the preservation of a giant elephant, one of the most complete ever found, which was unearthed on the same stretch of coastline 26 years ago.

Mr Thorogood, 21, who works for Aylmerton Field Study Centre, said: 'I was just wandering up the edge of the cliff and looked down and saw something that looked a bit different, picked it up and it turned out to be a mammoth tooth.

'I really couldn't believe it – it was a bit of a shock but quite exciting.

Aylmerton Field Study Centre trainee instructor Niall Thorogood, 21, who found a baby mammoth tooth

Aylmerton Field Study Centre trainee instructor Niall Thorogood, 21, who found a baby mammoth tooth on West Runton Beach.Picture: MARK BULLIMORE


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'Before I started (at Aylmerton) I didn't really have too much of an interest in what our coastline had to offer, now I've learnt a bit more about it I'd encourage anyone to come down here. There's so much more to find along here, this coast offers so much.'

It is not the first unusual discovery to made on the beach at West Runton.

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But, with plans to rebrand the area the Deep History Coast, it does highlight the importance of the coastline for unlocking the secrets to the country's past.

Last year, the pre-historic remains of a rhinoceros were found at the base of the cliffs. It followed the discovery of rhino teeth and skull bones nearby three years earlier.

However, the biggest find to date was the West Runton elephant, nicknamed the West Runton mammoth, dug up in 1990.

Mr Larkin, a fossil expert, said: 'It's definitely a mammoth tooth, a partial mammoth tooth. Happy though I would be to find it, they are not that uncommon. There will be many other fossil collectors who have found similar or better over the years. But it is a good reminder of the treasures that can be found along this stretch of coastline.'

And he added: 'We know Niall's tooth isn't from the West Runton mammoth as it had a full set.'

A new event is being planned in West Runton in August to showcase some of the area's best finds. The Rock, Mineral and Fossil roadshow will be held at West Runton beach on August 8.

Meanwhile support is growing for a permanent display to house them together in north Norfolk.

At present, 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, in Dereham – a 50-mile round-trip from where it was discovered.

Mr Larkin said: 'I think it would be great to get the West Runton mammoth skeleton on display in north Norfolk, but it would be a huge undertaking because of the size and the fragility of the bones.

'Even putting together a replica of the skeleton, either through moulding and casting or through scanning and 3D printing, and mounting them together would be a massive task.'

Over the past 26 years north Norfolk's eroding coastline has yielded up scores of prehistoric treasures including the oldest human footprints found outside Africa, and the most complete skeleton of a mammoth anywhere in the world.

There is intense academic interest in learning more about Doggerland, once a land bridge between the east coast and the continent with an earlier course of what is now the River Thames reaching the North Sea at Happisburgh.

In 1931 a 9,000-year-old harpoon head, made of carved red deer antler, was dredged up eight miles off Yarmouth and boats have continued trawling up evidence of Doggerland, termed 'Britain's Atlantis', which disappeared beneath the waves some 8,000 years ago.

Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service revealed it is working on plans for a new display on the West Runton mammoth.

However, it did not confirm whether it would support calls for it to be returned to the place it was found.

John Davies, Chief Curator at the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, said: 'The skeleton of the West Runton mammoth is one of the most important and iconic specimens in the county museum collections. Excavations directed by Norfolk Museums Service recovered 85 per cent of the skeleton, making it the most complete surviving example of the species known as the Steppe Mammoth.

'This internationally important specimen continues to be conserved and studied by specialist Norfolk Museums Service staff.

'NMS are planning to achieve an exciting and innovative new display of the mammoth, in association with the developing Deep History Coast project. However, the bones are both extremely fragile and heavy, presenting major difficulties.

'Staff are currently researching the best way to achieve this, while ensuring the long-term preservation of this delicate specimen.

'While this work continues, important parts of the skeleton can already be viewed at Cromer Museum, Norwich Castle Museum and at the Collections Centre, Gressenhall.'

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