Late Glacial Mammals In The British Isles

The most conspicuous mammal in Late Glacial times was surely the woolly mammoth, known from several dated specimens from Condover, Shropshire, and from scraps of ivory or bone from several cave sites, including Pin Hole and Robin Hood Caves at Creswell (Lister 1991). Almost as conspicuous, and much more abundant, was the giant deer or Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus), known from over sixty sites in Ireland (Reynolds 1929; Yalden 1999), from several sites on the Isle of Man, and from many elsewhere in Britain. Some of the specimens from Ireland predate the Devensian glacial maximum, but most dates fall in the Late Glacial (Woodman et al. 1997), as do all the dates from the Isle of Man (Innes et al. 2004). There has been much interest raised by the suggestion that this extinct species might have survived into the postglacial (Gonzalez et al. 2000), but redating of the relevant specimens confirms that they are actually of Late Glacial date (Innes et al. 2004). Campbell (1977) argues that the reindeer was the most numerous prey of Late Glacial hunters, followed by wild horse (tarpan), reported respectively from thirty and twenty-one of the thirty-three Late Glacial sites he reviewed. At Robin Hood Cave, at least, the main prey of human hunters appears to have been mountain hare (Charles and Jacobi 1994), and specialized hunting of hares for their white winter coat may have been more important than hunting them for meat. Other sites have also revealed mountain hares at this period, and they were clearly important, common, and widespread members of the Late Glacial fauna. Less numerous species that have been dated to this period include saiga (Saiga tatarica), arctic fox (Alopex lagopus), lynx (Lynx lynx), brown bear (Ursus arctos), and wolf (Canis lupus). All of these are members of an open ground fauna, to be expected in the herb-rich but unwooded conditions of the time. The known or likely small mammals of this fauna were Norway lemmings (Lemmus lemmus), collared lemmings (Dicrostonyx torquatus), narrow-headed voles (Microtus gregalis, the M. anglicus of earlier authors) and northern or root voles (Microtus oeconomus = M. ratticeps), all well known as fossils in British faunas of this time, typical of high Arctic conditions at the present day, but rarely dated directly.

Less expected are two woodland species which would not occur in an open treeless landscape, red deer (Cervus elaphus) and the wild cattle, aurochs (Bos primigenius). There are fewer records of these species, respectively seven and six which have been dated. Birch woodland is known from the pollen record to have established itself at least in southern Britain during the latter part of the Wind-ermere Interstadial, and all the red deer records are from southerly locations, including one in southern Ireland. The aurochsen occur more widely, but there are no known specimens from Ireland, at any date, and it is an interesting but here irrelevant detail to understand how red deer reached Ireland at this time while aurochs apparently did not. Two well-dated records of elk (Alces alces) also belong in this woodland fauna, and there are likely to have been other, smaller, mammals such as the wood lemming (Myopus schisticolor) and grey-sided vole (Clethrionomys rufocanus? cf. Price 2003) present at this time, though currently unrecognized as part of the Late Glacial fauna.

All the known radiocarbon-dated mammal records are listed in Table 5.1. Their relative abundance is not a good guide to their abundance in the Late Glacial landscape, since scientific interest in specific questions and species has biased the record. Table 5.1 does nevertheless provide a reliable record of which mammals are known to have been present in the British Isles at this time.

Table 5.1. Late Glacial 14C-dated mammal records from the British Isles

Species Site NGR Mean Date (bp)

Mammuthus primigenius

Lister 1991

Condover

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