Ilford mammoth skull returns home

13 November 2015

Redbridge Museum Manager and two Natural History Museum scientists next to the replica Ilford mammoth skull

Natural History Museum palaeontologists Prof Adrian Lister (middle) and Simon Parfitt (right) with Redbridge Museum Manager Gerard Greene (left) and the donated mammoth skull cast

Museum donates cast of Ilford mammoth skull to the London community where the fossil was found. 

The Natural History Museum donated the cast to the East Ilford Betterment Partnership, which has loaned it to the local Redbridge Museum. It is now on display in their free exhibition, Ice Age Ilford.

Important find

The original 200,000-year-old fossil, from which this exact replica was created, was discovered in Ilford in 1864 by naturalist Antonio Brady. It is the most complete mammoth skull ever found in Britain. The skull features three-metre-long tusks and belongs to a steppe mammoth, Mammuthus trogontherii.

While woolly mammoth teeth and bones from 12,000 to 100,000 years ago are commonly found in Britain, the discovery of a complete steppe mammoth skull is very rare.

Impressive cast

The cast was produced by a small team of Museum conservators in the 1990s. First, they made a flexible mould of the fossil skull and then used it to create a hollow resin cast.

Lorraine Cornish, who helped to create the cast, remembers: 'It was a challenging project due to the size of the skull and tusks, and because we were working from the original while it was on display.'

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The original Ilford mammoth skull, on display in the Museum's Hintze Hall, is the most complete mammoth skull found in Britain
 

Interglacial Ilford

The Ilford mammoth lived during a relatively mild interglacial period. Summers were similar or slightly warmer than today, while winters were colder.

An ancestor of the woolly mammoth, the steppe mammoth was about the size of an African elephant. It weighed five to six tonnes and reached three metres in shoulder height. It had teeth adapted to eating mainly grass and occasional leaves and twigs from trees and shrubs.

Neanderthals were also present in the area, as were lions, rhinos, aurochs (extinct wild oxen), bison and giant deer.

Community benefit

The Museum's donation fulfils a long-standing desire of the Ilford community to have a replica of the famous mammoth skull that bears the name of the area.

Museum palaeontologist Prof Adrian Lister, who has studied the fossil skull and suggested the idea of the donation, thinks the gift will spark interest in science and nature across the local community:

'People in the Ilford area are immensely proud of the major fossil discoveries that were made under what is now their high street. In 2014 a plaque was erected on the front of Ilford Methodist Church, opposite the place the mammoth skull was found, to commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of its discovery.

'The skull was presented in November 2015 and is generating tremendous local interest and excitement, which the local museum is using as an opportunity for education at all levels about local history, geology and fossils.'

The Ice Age Ilford exhibition, which features the life-size replica skull, is open at Redbridge Museum until 4 June 2016.

  • By Mark Racz  

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