On a winter walk at West Runton you’ll probably see a few happy dogs racing on the beach. Yet go back about 600,000 years and you’d be more likely to see elephants. Actually, Harold and Margaret Hems did see one, in December 1990. At least, they saw its pelvic bone, poking out of the cliff after a violent winter storm. Five years later a full excavation unearthed the oldest and largest Steppe Mammoth skeleton ever found in the UK. Standing at 4m tall and weighing 10 tonnes, this gigantic prehistoric mammal has become a local legend.
A towering creature, the Steppe Mammoth – Mammuthus trogontherii – roamed this ancient place with rhino, bison, beaver, hyena and also stone age settlers. But they shared a very different view to the one we see today. In fact our ancestors could have walked from Norfolk to Holland without getting their feet wet because the choppy North Sea was a land of rivers, grasses and savannah. Imagine that as you gaze at the horizon!
The mammoth’s near complete but fragile skeleton is preserved by Norfolk Museum Services. You can see part of it in Cromer Museum and find out more at West Runton Beach Café’s learning hub.
When winter gales scour the Norfolk coast and chunks of eroding cliff crumble down, a walker might scout a pre-historic fossil, perhaps a fragment of deer antler or mysterious mammal bone. But no one has been as fortunate as Mr and Mrs Hems. At least, not yet…