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From Ice Age England: A Woolly Rhinoceros

11/05 A major archaeological discovery has been unearthed in a quarry in Staffordshire. The chance find was made by Ray Davies, a worker at the Lafarge Aggregates quarry, who pulled up the massive skull of a woolly rhino in the bucket of his digger. Archaeologists from the University of Birmingham were called in to supervise the recovery of the skeleton.

The partial skeleton of the woolly rhinoceros dates back to the Ice Age and was found at the sand and gravel quarry at Whitemoor Haye near Alrewas.

Gary Coates, a University of Birmingham archaeologist, said, "I've been working at Whitemoor Haye Quarry for five years and have excavated everything from prehistoric burial grounds to Roman farmsteads, but this find was totally unexpected. It's the biggest find - in all senses of the word - I've ever been involved with."

Initially the rhino remains were taken to the University's archaeological unit for cleaning and identification. The rhino, believed to have died 30 - 40 thousand years ago and to have weighed approximately one and a half tonnes, has now been donated to the Natural History Museum in London to be conserved and displayed.

Andy Currant, a palaeontologist from the Natural History Museum, said, "This is the best example of a woolly rhino I have ever seen. The bones are exceptionally well preserved - usually, remains have been scavenged by predators and only fragments survive."

The dig has also uncovered the remains of mammoth, reindeer, wild horse and a wolf as well as plants and beetles which provide an extraordinarily detailed picture of the freezing environment in which the rhino lived and died.

Staffordshire County Council archaeologist Bill Klemperer, said, "this is an important find that demonstrates the rich archaeological heritage of this area."

Regional Planning Manager for Lafarge Aggregates, Ross Halley, said, "Many of our sites are rich in historical finds, but this is one of the most significant, so we were keen to involve the specialists and co-operate in the excavations. Quarrying is one way archaeologists can quickly search large areas of land, especially where the ground is not suitable for traditional search methods."

Further excavation is being funded by English Nature through their Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund Grants Scheme to find the remainder of the rhino. Natalie Bennett from English Nature said, "We were delighted to be able to support this project through our Sustainability Fund Grants Scheme as finds of this calibre are unusual. The Fund provides us with the opportunity to work with Lafarge Aggregates to ensure specialists are able to study the woolly rhino and the surrounding sediments before the company continue to extract the sand and gravel."  [Source]


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