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The Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society

Since 1863

For everyone interested in Yorkshire's past

Palaeolithic Yorkshire – mammoth and other ancient elephant finds

Spurn Point mammoth tusk


YMT Warden Andrew Gibson & Spurn Point mammoth tusk find (Middle Palaeolithic 50,000 BC or earlier)

In April 2009, three youngsters on holiday from Hull uncovered a superb specimen of a Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) tusk from the sand dunes at the Spurn Point Nature Reserve. The find was confirmed by Andy Gibson, the warden at Spurn Point, and later by Peter Halkon, of the Department of History at the University of Hull. At 1.25m (4ft) long and weighing in at almost 27kg (60lb), it is possibly the finest example of mammoth tusk to have been found in the area. According to Andy Gibson, a 25cm (10in) piece of tusk was found in 1996 at Spurn Point but discovering a section as large as this was “extremely rare”. The tusk, initially dated to no later than 50,000 BP, is on display at the Spurn Point visitor centre along with other exhibits illustrating the ecology and archaeology of the area.

Mammoth and extinct straight-tusked elephant (Elephas palaeoloxodon antiquus) remains from the Upper Pleistocene, usually fossilised teeth, are not that uncommon, particularly along the North Sea coast of Holderness.


Mammoth and other ancient elephant finds In Yorkshire. 16 mammoth finds locations

Again in 2009, a piece of mammoth tooth was discovered at Kilnsea, also now on display at Spurn Point, and a mammoth tooth from Spurn Point was donated to Hull Museum in 1907.

The museum currently has a collection of 22 further certified assorted elephant/mammoth remains from Devensian deposits, principally tills (boulder clays) or gravel pits, of which 15 are teeth (molars) and 7 are tusks. Of the 15 teeth, 9 are specifically identified as Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius); of the 7 tusks, 5 are specifically assigned to the Woolly Mammoth. 8 of the remains carry provenance, particularly those from inland sites with recorded stratigraphy and geology: 3 come from the Brandesburton gravels, 1 each from the foreshore at Aldbrough, the Kelsey Hill gravels at Burstwick, Easington, the cliff face at Kilnsea, and Withernsea. In addition, Hull museum holds as many remains again from the Holderness area of uncertain identity simply recorded as Elephas sp.

A Woolly Mammoth tusk found at Withernsea in 1993 is on display in the town. In July 2004 a set of teeth were exposed on the beach at Mappleton Sands between Mappleton and Great Crowden after a storm followed in September of the same year by a piece of tusk, both reliably reported as Woolly Mammoth: the finds were later put on display at Hornsea Museum. Several Upper Pleistocene faunal finds, including mammoth, come from Bielsbeck, near North Cliffe, south of Market Weighton.


Spurn Point mammoth molars (Middle Palaeolithic 50,000 BC or earlier)

In 1828-9 and again between 1905-8, animal bones were discovered during the digging of a marl pit close to Bielsbeck Farm. The mammal assemblage included lion, straight-tusked elephant, mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), two species of rhinoceros, brown bear, wolf, bison, red deer and horse. In 1999 the entire assemblage was dated to between c. 245,000-186,000 years BP.

During the excavation of a landfill site in 1991, mammoth remains were discovered in two adjacent pits on Galley Moor, NW of Bielsbeck. One of the mammoth teeth and some associated organic material yielded dates of 40,000±2300 and 46,000±2300 radiocarbon years respectively, but the deposit appears to be older and of early to mid-Devensian age.

In 1993, the tooth of a straight-tusked elephant was found in spoil spread on a field after the excavation of an irrigation pond near North Cliffe. The following year only l.5 km south of Bielsbeck further teeth and bones were found which were identified as straight-tusked elephant, wild horse (Equus ferus), red deer (Cervus elaphus) and cattle or bison. Much further inland, mammoth remains found at the former Oxbow opencast coal mine, near Castleford, W. Yorks., have been dated to 38,600±1500 BP.