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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Laois Nationalist


'Skull and antlers of 11,000 year-old deer uncovered'

This article appeared in the Laois Nationalist on Friday, January 19, 2001 :

The antlers and skull of a giant deer, estimated to have lived approximately 11,000 years ago, was uncovered by the secretary of Graiguecullen Gun Club, Seán Kearns, during work on the digging out of a duck pond on marshy land at Sleaty, Derrymoyle.

The Irish giant deer became extinct in this country more than 10,000 years ago due to deterioration of climate during the ice age.

The remains comprise of the almost complete skull of a fully mature male giant deer (Megalocerous giganteus) with attached antler beams, which are thought to have been about three metres in span.

The giant deer antlers and skull were uncovered by Mr Kearns during digging work to develop a feeding shelf for grain feeding of ducks.

The work was part of improvements to develop the wildfowl sanctuary within a restricted shooting reserve operated by the gun club.

Seán, a self-employed clothes retailer, told The Nationalist this week: “The water had washed down the sand off the shovel I was using the dig the duck pond and the antlers and skull were plainly visible.”

The antlers are incomplete, representing approximately half of the material which would have been present in life. Twenty five antler pieces in all were uncovered, three large, the rest small.

The skull was complete but for a recent break across the snout which is interpreted as being caused by mechanical dredging of the pond which occurred previous to the find.

The skull was sitting on a layer of angular stones which is typically associated with an extremely cold climate such as would have prevailed at the end of the ice age about 13,000 years ago. The remains were in a layer of lime marl with tight-packed grey marl under the right antler palm - the flat area of the antler - and sandy marl under the left antler palm.

Seán was accompanied by John Duggan, Knockbeg, chairman of the club at the time.

The giant deer was discovered on lands rented by Teagasc, the national farm advisory body, as a research farm from the diocese of Kildare & Leighlin.

It will now be a matter for Teagasc if the farm body wishes to donate the remains to the National Museum of Ireland.

On making the discover Seán Kearns immediately contacted Mr Willie Kelly, the Teagasc Officer at the Knockbeg research farm.

Subsequently the National Museum of Ireland was contacted and Mr Nigel Monaghan, Assistant Keeper, visited the scene.

Mr Monaghan considered the find so important that he arranged for almost immediate transportation to the National Museum.

The post excavation procedure included the removal of all mud and adhering material from the bones and placing of the remains in a cabinet where they were allowed to dry out slowly.

The bones are now being dried and cleaned at the National Museum.

Mr Monaghan told The Nationalist this week that every time the remains of a giant deer are discovered the National Museum obtains extra information on the animal.

Giant deer finds are most common in areas well know for their peat bogs.

Mr Monaghan said the giant deer would have lived as long as any modern male deer - perhaps some 15 years - and would have had to endure hazards such as attack by wolves.

The expert opinion on the Irish giant deer is that the animal became extinct due to deterioration of climate 10,500 years ago.

This climate deterioration led to the collapse of the long spring season of growth of grasses and other plants which had allowed the giant deer to build up their body reserves for the rest of the year.

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