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Ancient mammoth tusk excites archaeologists

The foot long section of mammoth tusk found near the Total gas plant construction site. Photo AF Images

EXCITEMENT has broken out in archaeological circles after a section of mammoth tusk was discovered in a burn close to Sullom Voe, in Shetland’s north mainland.

Surveyors working close to the Total gas plant construction site came across the curved bone two weeks ago while they were examining land for future pipe laying.

The section of tusk measures just over one foot in length, but stood out because of its thickness, weight and curved shape.

Shetland archaeologist Val Turner said initially the surveyors thought it could have been a walrus tusk, but as soon as she saw it she realised it was far too big.

“I had never seen anything like it before and could not imagine what something so thick, heavy and that shape could have come from,” she said.

Turner sent the tusk off to the Paleontology Museum of Uppsala University, in Sweden, who have the largest fossil collection in Scandinavia.

“I was amazed when they contacted me last week to say it came from a mammoth,” she said.

“This is a first for Shetland and depending on how it got here it could shed a very important new light on the islands’ ancient past.”

Shetland is known for its wool, not its wooly mammoths...until now, that is.

Shetland Amenity Trust has sealed off the area where the tusk was found ready for experts from Uppsala University, who arrive on Monday to carry out an archaeological assessment to see if there are any more mammoth bones to be found.

“Part of what the assessment would have to show is whether a mammoth was living here at any point or whether the tusk got there by other means,” Turner said.

Avril Narr, of Uppsala University’s evolutionary biology department, said mammoths were normally associated with northern Russia or Canada, but it was quite possible one could have come to Shetland at the end of the last Ice Age around 12,000 years ago.

“Mammoth remains have been found further south than Shetland, so there is no reason why such a creature could not have survived here,” she said.

“However mammoth tusks have been appearing with increasing frequency in Siberia and elsewhere because of ice melting with climate change, so it is also possible this tusk was washed here by the ocean current.”