Fishermen Discover Massive Skull and Antlers From Ancient 'Irish Elk'

A man stands behind the skull of a giant Irish elk that was fished out of Lough Neagh, a freshwater lake in Northern Ireland. Ardboe Gallery/Facebook

Two fishermen have stumbled across an unlikely find: the skull of a creature that roamed the Earth some 10,000 years ago.

What they hauled into the boat was the skull and antlers of a great Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus), an extinct creature that likely stood about 6.9 feet (2.1 meters) tall.

"It came up in the net on the side of the boat," Raymond McElroy told BeslfastLive. "I thought it was a bit of black oak to begin with. I was shocked to begin with when I got it over the side and saw the skull and antlers."

Need a bigger boat

McElroy and his assistant, Charlie Coyle, were fishing on Sept. 5 in Lough Neagh, a freshwater lake in Northern Ireland. They were fishing for pollan, a fish found only in Lough Neagh and four other lakes in Ireland.

According to LiveScience, McElroy and Coyle weren't particularly deep into Lough Neagh, only half a mile from shore, pulling up a net that was only about 20 feet deep.

Their find is well-preserved, measuring about 6 feet from antler tip to tip.

This wasn't the first time the lake had delivered a bewildering find. In 2014, another fisherman, Martin Kelly, found a lower jawbone in roughly the same place in Lough Neagh. A curator from the Ulster Museum, Kenneth James, estimated that the jawbone was around 14,000 years old.

Given the location, McElroy believes the jawbone and the skull might belong to the same individual, but that'll be up to the experts to decide. For now, the skull is staying in McElroy's garage until the authorities can figure out where its new home will be.

A massive creature

A close-up of the great Irish elk skull
You don't see any of these any more, and for good reason: The great Irish elk is extinct. Ardboe Gallery/Facebook

The name great Irish elk is a bit of a misnomer on several levels. The first is being Irish. The animal was widespread across Europe, northern Asia and northern Africa. But the best samples of the creature have been found in the bogs of Ireland, according to the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

The second misnomer is calling it an elk. The creature was actually a deer. It was the largest known deer species in history. In addition to its height, the span of its antlers could reach an estimated 12 feet across.

As for how the creature become extinct around 10,500 to 11,000 years ago in Ireland, well, those antlers probably didn't help.

"They came in [to Ireland] when the weather was great on the grass plains, but then the trees started to grow," Mike Simms at the Ulster Museum told BelfastLive. "Giants antlers aren't great in the forest. Environmental change is what caused their extinction."