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50,000-year-old mammoth skull found in gravel pit

Above is an artist's rendition of a mammoth.
Above is an artist's rendering of a mammoth.

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LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Two scientists have unearthed a complete skull of a mammoth that wandered the English countryside 50,000 years ago -- only the second intact example found in Britain.

The skull was discovered in a gravel pit in southwestern England, where it was at risk of being destroyed.

"It was pure luck that we found it in time," said Dr Neville Hollingworth, who discovered the skull with fellow scientist Dr Mark O'Dell.

"Diggers go over the site all the time and if we hadn't found it, it would have eventually ended up under a road somewhere," he said on Wednesday.

The pair started digging when Hollingworth spotted a small piece of bone sticking out of the ground earlier this month.

"We started digging around, expecting it only to be a small fragment, and several hours later we had uncovered a whole mammoth's skull. I was absolutely astounded that the skull was so complete and intact with no damage," Hollingworth said.

Experts believe the mammoth was a middle-aged female, between 30 and 40 years old, which weighed between four and five tons.

Scientists now plan to compare the skull with the UK's only other specimen, displayed in London's Natural History Museum, to try to understand more about the species' evolution.

"The find will shed new light on mammoth ecology, their lifestyle and a bit about the pre-history of the southwest of England," Hollingworth said.



Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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