West Bay Discovery Centre, West Bay, Bridport, DT6 4EN.

West Bay’s Own Woolly Mammoth?

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Discoveries of prehistoric animal bones have been hitting the news headlines recently. In a new documentary David Attenborough reveals a Mammoth Graveyard that has been excavated in a quarry near Swindon. Last week the local television news reported that bones from different species of Mammoth and Woolly Rhino have been unearthed by archaeologists from a cave beneath the site of a new housing estate near Plymouth.

These prehistoric finds are very rare in the twenty-first century but many more were discovered around 200 years ago when the fascination for fossils, inspired by Mary Anning of Lyme Regis, created an enormous interest in creatures from the past.

In 1809, the fragments of a humerus (upper arm bone) and a femur (joint between the hip and the knee) of a ‘mammot’ were found in the garden of a Mr Way beside the East Cliffs of what was then known as Bridport Harbour (West Bay today).

A letter written by Mr Way, and the bones themselves, were deposited for safekeeping with Mr Joseph Banks of the Royal College of Surgeons in London. This document has come to light from a search in the digitised British Newspaper Archive by volunteers of the Discovery Centre. The letter was published in the Bridport News of 23rd February, 1877, nearly eighty years after the event, by a Mr George Brown, a descendent of James Brown who discovered the bone fragments on Mr Ways’ land.

It is fascinating to read how the cliffs were regularly ‘slipping’ in the same way 200 years ago as they do today with the soil and grass remaining on top of the pile!

We can’t be sure which Mammoth species was found in West Bay as Joseph Banks called them ‘elephant bones’ but the last living species found in England were Woolly Mammoths so it is not improbable to imagine a herd of them roaming the tundra in the Bridport area all those thousands of years ago.

Mammoths were living between 2.5 million and 11,000 years ago during the Ice ages in Europe (Pleistocene Era). The largest species could reach over 4 metres in height and weigh over 8 tonnes. They are not found very often along the Jurassic coast where the rock formation belongs to the earlier ‘Mesozoic’ period between 242 million and 6 million years ago.

If you want to go fossil hunting West Bay is not the best or safest place to do so. You can find out more about searching for fossils at Charmouth and Lyme Regis from the  Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site


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