Megaloceros (Irish Elk)
One of the best exhibits in the walkway between the galleries at the National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh), is this magnificent Megaloceros fossil skeleton. The name of this extinct member of the deer family (Cervidae), means “great horn” and although antlers are not technically horns, it is not hard to see why this Ice Age herbivore got its moniker. The fossils were found in the Isle of Man and we think this was one of the first if not the very first specimens to be scientifically studied. Although a number of species have now been assigned to the Megaloceros genus, this is the largest of the species M. giganteus.
The Magnificent Megaloceros on Display at the Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh)
Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur
The impressive antlers grew each year and a large pair could measure more than three and a half metres wide. The weight of the antlers was considerable putting tremendous pressure on those cervical bones and the muscles in the neck. It has been estimated that a pair of antlers could weigh as much as forty kilogrammes. That is heavier than the young girl in the pink coat in the picture. Although also known as the “Irish Elk”, Megaloceros was not restricted to Ireland. It had a very wide distribution, fossils having been found all over northern Europe and Asia. Fossils of Megaloceros have even been found in China. It was also not very closely related to the extant Elk, but more closely related to modern Fallow Deer. Standing more than two metres high at the shoulders, it is one of the largest members of the Cervidae family known. Note the elongated skull, the strong neck and the strong legs. Sadly, this magnificent beast became extinct at the end of the last Ice Age, however, a dwarf species is believed to have survived on the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Sardinia until about 5,000 B.C.
It is always a pleasure to find a Megaloceros exhibit on display so prominently in a museum.