The first-ever woolly mammoth bone to be discovered in Scotland was found purely by accident after it washed up on a beach at Loch Ryan, near Stranraer in Dumfries and Galloway, reports the Scotsman.
The serendipitous find was made by marine worker Nicholas Coombey, who came across the Ice Age relic last month, while inspecting the beach as part of his job for the Solway Coastwise project. Run by the Solway Firth Partnership, a charity dedicated to the preservation of the area, the project involves looking into coastal place names and the stories behind them.
Coombey gave the Scotsman a full account of how he happened to find the bone, which he said looked like it had just been placed on the sand by an unknown hand.
“My job basically involves visiting a lot of beaches and I’m always being asked what the most interesting thing I’ve found has been. I stumbled upon it one day and knew immediately that it must have been quite special as I’d never seen a bone so large before.”
According to the Daily Record, Coombey looked up the bone on the internet to get an idea of what he might have discovered. After that, he it had it checked out by local experts from a museum in Dumfries and Galloway, who ended up sending it to the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) for further verification.
The incredible find turned out to be a two-foot-long (60 centimeters) thigh bone belonging to a woolly mammoth — the very first bone of this kind ever uncovered in Scotland.
The discovery was confirmed by Dr. Andrew Kitchener, principal curator of vertebrates at the NMS’s department of natural sciences, who revealed that most of the woolly mammoth remains discovered on the country’s territory in a total of 16 fossil sites have either been teeth or tusks — but never an actual skeletal bone.
“This is incredibly exciting because it is the first confirmed bone,” Kitchener told the Daily Record.
As he explained, the only other instance when a mammoth bone was allegedly found in Scotland happened almost 180 years ago. Someone reported spotting a mammoth bone at Chapelhall in North Lanarkshire in 1840, but the claim couldn’t be verified because the specimen was lost, so the identification remained unconfirmed, notes IFL Science.
In the case of the newfound bone, however, there is no room for doubt as to what it could be. The museum curator identified the mammoth bone by comparing it to the remains of other large mammals, such as rhinos, mammoths, and elephants.
Kitchener is currently conducting radio carbon tests to find out the age of the mammoth bone, though he estimates it dates back to 30,000 years ago.
“Whilst Scotland was almost completely glaciated at the peak of the last Ice Age, there is evidence for the presence of Ice Age fauna around 30,000 years ago, including mammoths and woolly rhinos,” Kitchener told the BBC.
The initial analyses revealed that the animal was between seven and eight feet (2.1 to 2.4 meters) tall.
“They have the mammoth name but they weren’t necessarily mammoth size,” said Kitchener.
The museum curator is planning on investigating the stable isotopes in a bone sample in order to ascertain what this long-extinct creature used to eat.
Woolly mammoths disappeared roughly 4,000 years ago, but in their heyday, these magnificent creatures could grow to be 13 feet (four meters) tall, which just their hair reaching lengths of up to four feet (1.2 meters).