Archaeologists get their teeth into studying elephants in Yorkshire

Alexandra Wood

THEY are more associated with the wilds of Africa – but new research shows that elephants, rhinos and lions once roamed the plains of Yorkshire.

The study has thrown new light on a now vanished landscape inhabited by the animals more than a quarter of a million years ago.

The research looked at bones dug up in the early 19th century and more recent discoveries in the Market Weighton area of East Yorkshire – including the tooth of a young straight-tusked elephant found by a gamekeeper on the Houghton Hall estate.

Experts have discovered more about the ancient landscape in which they once lived – a barely recognisable one of woodland, grassland and river.

Many of the bones were found by a large but now buried river system that ran from the Yorkshire Wolds to what is now the Humber Estuary.

The study shows that the climate has always been changing – a flint axe found near Hotham possibly one of the North of England’s oldest tools, shows that people were living on on the Yorkshire Wolds overlooking the river valley between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago.

The discovery of mammoth bones in the same valley shows there was a dramatic climate change to the much colder conditions of Ice Ages between 70,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Dr Peter Halkon, lecturer in archaeology at the University of Hull, who co-ordinated the research by experts from seven institutions, said the research showed dramatic landscape changes in a relatively small area, with humans and animals adapting to the changing conditions.

He said: “In the period between the Mesothilic hunter gatherers and the Neolithic there was a very big rise in sea-level creating a large tidal inlet, pushing the Humber coastline almost 10km further to the north of its present position.

“In the Bronze Age there was a regression and the water level fell back, so the area that was tidal estuary becomes forest. Between 800 and 500BC there was a further rapid rise in sea level recreating the estuarine tidal inlet, but to an even greater extent than the Neolithic.”

Dr Halkon said:“Most authorities agree that while humans accelerate climate change, there is an underlying climate change and sea level rise that we can do absolutely nothing about.”

The paper Change and Continuity within the prehistoric landscape of the Foulness Valley is published in the East Riding Archaeologist.