The Irish Elk (Megaloceros)

Irish Elk cranium with antlers from William Hunter's collection in the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow.

Irish Elk cranium with antlers from William Hunter’s collection in the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow.

Scotland’s claims to the extinct Irish Elk, or giant deer Megaloceros, lie in fossilised remains found at Maybole in Ayrshire in 1837. Preserved in peat and boulder clays, the Maybole remains and other Irish Elk fossils in Scotland date from both before and after the Ice Age, making Megaloceros one of the most geologically recent fossils in Scotland. The Irish Elk was one of the largest deer ever to walk the planet, standing at over two metres in height with huge antlers spanning 9 feet in diameter. Although not confirmed, it is thought that human activity may have played a significant role in the extinction of the creature. There are several examples of Megaloceros skeletons in museums, both at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh and in Ireland.

Interestingly, William Hunter, founder of the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, was curious about the Irish Elk in the late 18th century as an example of an extinct animal, long before the idea of ‘extinction’ became a widely-accepted theory. Indeed, he apparently put off describing Megaloceros as a form of elk or moose that had become extinct because he did not have sufficient evidence, and was concerned about damaging his reputation.