200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 177: “The Irish Elk ”

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skull and antlers of the Irish Elk
The Irish elk display in the Academy’s Art of Science Gallery.

The Irish Elk

The Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus) may be extinct, but fossils at the Academy are bringing it to life. This Ice Age species of giant deer once roamed Eurasia from the east of Lake Baikal in Russia to Ireland and even appeared as far south as Northern Africa before going extinct about 7,700 years ago. The species is known for its remarkable size, as some adults stood about 7 feet tall at the shoulders and had nearly 90-pound antlers that spanned 12 feet.

As a result of their wide geographical range and impressive size, Irish elk are frequently found in Ice Age paleontological collections. The Academy’s collection includes a skull with impressive antlers as well as a complete skeleton with antlers acquired in 1853. The complete Irish elk skeleton was articulated and exhibited in the Academy’s main exhibit hall until the early decades of the 20th century when it was removed from public display. On loan to the Rutgers Geological Museum in recent years, the skeleton is returning to the Academy where it will be remounted and put in the spotlight for the Bicentennial exhibit.

The Irish elk’s magnificence was captured by prehistoric artists in the famous Lascaux cave paintings and has continued to inspire artists ever since. The Academy’s collection contains photographs of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ life-size sculpture (1870) and a painted plaster model by Charles R. Knight (1915). Our library houses early 19th-century lithographs of Irish elk specimens. The Academy’s iconic mounted Irish elk antlers appear in contemporary artist Shane Stratton’s 2010 charcoal study, which can be found in the Art of Science Gallery underneath the antlers.

Stop by the Academy’s Art of Science Gallery to see Irish elk-inspired art, and be sure to attend the bicentennial celebrations to welcome the return of the Academy’s own Irish elk mount.

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