Mexborough times, July 5, 1878
Interesting Discovery of Bones of Extinct Animals at Conisbrough.
Our scientific readers will be glad to note a most interesting discovery of ossiferous remains of animals of the Pleistocene age in the limestone crags at Conisborough. The workmen engaged in excavating the cutting for the pipes in connection with the Doncaster Water Works, came upon several fossil bones of unusual size. Some of these passed into the hands of one of the men employed on the works, who kept them as a “wonderful find,” but was ignorant of their true character.
Information of the discovery reaching the ears of Mr E.B.Jenkinson, F.G.S., of Swinton, that gentleman purchased them, and others afterwards obtained, and sent them to Prof Boyd Dawkins, of Owens College, Manchester, for identification .
That gentleman being a distinguished palaeontologist, and noted cave hunter, identified them as the bones of the Eliphas, or Mammoth, the rhinoceros tichorinus (woolly rhinoceros) and the Horse, and also pointed out that some of the bones had been gnawed by hyenas.
To those versed in this geological facts, the discovery of relics of animals, totally extinct, now in Great Britain, is not a matter up for wonder; for at Robin Hood´s cave, in Creswell crags, Nottinghamshire, and at Wookey hole, near Wells, Somersetshire, and at Kirkdale, Yorks, the remains of the Elephant, Rhinoceros, Hyena, and other animals have been found in large quantities; but the non-scientific reader will be startled when he reads that our own country was once the habitat of the so gigantic, and so savage.
The bones found in the rocks at Conisbrough, are the femur, the radius, the tibia and the shaft of humorous, woolly rhinoceros, the metacarpal of horse; and the tibia of elephas (probably Mammoth).
The age of these bones is also incalculable. It is very improbable that man existed when these particular animals range the shores of rivers and lakes, and the forest covered our district. The length of time that has elapsed may be conceived when we consider that the River Don has cut out its present bed since the time when these animals lived; by a slow process through the hard magnesium limestone stratum, down to the coal measures, wearing away year by year. The limestone, unaided by the hand of man, or any force in nature, and carrying down the detritus to the low lying lands near Doncaster, and so becoming the comparatively narrow stream, pent-up by the hills of the limestone formation, that it now is.
The position, in which the bones were found embedded in clay, was most probably not their original resting place, but which was most likely one of the caves so common in the limestone districts. The fact of the bones been gnawed by hyenas, points to the existence of one of these homes of the carnivorous species.
No evidence of a cave, however, was to be found on the spot, though specimens of stalagmite show clearlyhow caves and crevices are formed in the strata, namely, by the action of water. If these animals, had been destroyed, died, near the edge of the River Don, which would then be a broad lake, extending across the Valley from Denaby on the one side, to Melton on the other, when they came to drink, it is scarcely likely that such a variety of bones would been found in one spot. It is most probable that an extensive cave existed higher up the cliffs, which was washed away and these bones were brought down with others, by the swirling waters, into one of the many crevices or ledges, always to be found in the limestone strata.
The lapse of time since the deposit of these curious remains, may also be gathered from the fact that there does not exist in the world, at this time, animals, like the mammoth, or woolly rhinoceros. These mammals were provided, unlike their successors with coats of short, thick hair. Why this difference between the presents pieces and their Pleistocene representatives? This woolly covering of these mammals indicates, what physical geology teachers, that there has been a great climatic change in our country. When these creatures live, the average temperature was little above freezing point, it was an age of ice, when gigantic glaziers were grinding down mountains, and: the temperature in their neighbourhood will stop the Pleistocene age was an age where I some water with a great agents in the formation of the surface of the globe; and animals with thick hides covered with hair, were fitted to exist in the climatic conditions that would destroy animals of related species at the present time.
Several of these bones we are informed, will be lent by Mr Jenkinson, to the Weston Park Museum, where our readers can see for themselves these relics, which speaks so plainly of vast changes in the physical geography of our land.