Amongst its historical collections, the Market Hall Museum in Warwick cares for and displays the skeleton of an extinct male Giant Irish Deer (or ‘Irish Elk’), dug from an Irish peat bog during the nineteenth century. The skeleton was acquired by the Warwickshire Natural History and Archaeological Society who were the founders of the modern museum service.
These remarkable animals lived from roughly 500,000 to 8000 years ago and ranged from Siberia in the east as far west as Ireland. They measured up to 2.1m (7ft) at the shoulder with impressive antlers measuring up to 3.6m (12ft) from tip to tip. Their remains are best known from Ireland, where countless skeletons and bones turned up in the peat bogs as they were dug on a large scale for fuel. The formal scientific name for this species is Megaloceros giganteus.
The cause of the Irish Giant Deer’s extinction is unclear and it is likely that a number of factors contributed. Climate change might have played a part; spring seasons may have shortened meaning less time for long grass to grow. Less grass would have meant less food and ultimate starvation.
Warwickshire Museum’s Irish Giant Deer was named ‘Oisin’ (Gaelic for ‘young deer’) by public vote in 2010. Oisin is now something of a celebrity on the social media network Twitter, where he comments on museum activities, news, natural history, archaeology and more.