A WOOLLY rhinoceros skeleton discovered at a quarry near Burton is giving scientists a new insight into British weather conditions during the Ice Age.
When unearthed at Lafarge Tarmac’s Whitemoor Hay sand and gravel works near Alrewas, the remains were dubbed ‘the most significant fossil find of a large mammal in Britain for over 100 years’.
Now, following years of research, the well-preserved bones are yielding the secrets of Britain’s climate as it was 42,000 years ago.
British and Dutch scientists, led by Professor Danielle Schreve from Royal Holloway, University of London, analysed the skeleton and the remains of animals such as mammoths, reindeer and well-preserved insects to create a picture of the Ice Age environment.
They discovered summer temperatures in Britain would have averaged just 10C and plummeted to minus 22C in winter.
Ross Halley, Lafarge Tarmac’s head of mineral resources, said: “It is quite astounding to think bones found at one of our sites have been so critical to understanding how our ancient weather worked.
“When we unearthed the skeleton in 2002, we knew we had come across something special - and now we are beginning to see just how important this find is.”
The rhino was found by quarry worker Ray Davies, who pulled up the animal’s skull with his excavator bucket.
Archaeologists from the University of Birmingham were called in immediately to supervise the recovery of the full skeleton, which remained largely intact – a rarity as most woolly rhino bones found have been heavily gnawed by predators.
Given the exceptional value of the archaeological find, quarrying was immediately moved to a different part of the site.
The bones then were passed to the Natural History Museum, in London, where they have since been studied for more than a decade.
Mr Halley said Lafarge Tarmac was always keen to ensure important finds at its quarries were recorded and preserved.