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Fishermen Caught a 10,500-Year-Old Giant Irish Elk Skull—Antlers and All

Mental Floss logo Mental Floss 12/09/2018 Emily Petsko

© Courtesy of Ardboe Gallery The Irish elk (megaloceros giganteus) has been extinct in Ireland for about 10,500 years. So you can imagine how surprised two fishermen were when they pulled up their net and discovered a prehistoric elk skull—with antlers attached—as their catch of the day.

As Smithsonian reports, Raymond McElroy and Charlie Coyle were fishing in Ireland's Lough Neagh, a lake near the town of Ardboe, when they thought their net had snagged on a piece of driftwood. However, when they finally managed to hoist it out of the water, they discovered the skull with antlers measuring over six feet across.

"I thought it was the devil himself," Coyle told The Irish Times. "I was going to throw it back in. I didn't know what to do with it."

McElroy, however, recalled that a jawbone of an ancient Irish elk (possibly from the same animal discovered by the fishermen) was caught in the same area in 2014. For the time being, he's keeping the skull in his garage.

This particular elk probably stood about 6.5 feet tall. It's worth noting, though, that the name "Irish elk" is a bit of a misnomer. The animal is actually classified as a type of deer—in fact, the largest deer to ever have existed.

The "Irish" part of the name stems from the fact that fossils of the animal are often discovered in Ireland's lakes and bogs, which help preserve the bones. However, the animals once roamed throughout Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia. It was roughly the same size as a modern-day moose, weighed about 1300 pounds, and some animals needed a clearance of 13 feet just to squeeze their antlers between the trees.

"Giant antlers aren't great in the forest," Mike Simms at the Ulster Museum tells Belfast Live. "Environmental change is what caused their extinction."

And thus, the Irish elk joined giant sloths, giant beavers, saber-toothed tigers, mastodons, and mammoths in the enormous extinct animals club, never to be seen again (or at least until the next fishing expedition).

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