Cow comes in from the cold

October 6, 2002 - BBC

Neck bone of a 170,000-year-old giant cow found. Its discovery follows that of hippopotamus, elephant woolly mammoth fossils and woolly rhinoceros.

London continues to throw up intriguing evidence of its Ice Age past.

The city's Natural History Museum has just taken in the neck bone of a 170,000-year-old giant cow found not far from the institution in Knightsbridge.

Its discovery follows that of hippopotamus and elephant remains beneath Trafalgar Square, woolly mammoth fossils on the Strand and woolly rhinoceros remains under Battersea Power Station.

The growing collection of Pleistocene specimens is giving scientists an extraordinary glimpse of the UK capital's freezing history.

Famous store

London's Ice Age past was a mystery until the late 19th Century when an unprecedented amount of building and excavation took place.

As a number of fossil remains were then discovered around the city, a remarkable story unravelled exposing evidence of large-scale climatic change and animal development.

The vertebra from a 170,000-year-old aurochs (Bos primigenius) was found on a building site in Knightsbridge. The three-metre-long beast is considered to be the ancestor of many modern cattle. It became extinct across Europe within the last few thousand years.

When the aurochs walked down what is now the Brompton Road - home to the famous Harrods department store - it would have done so in the company of wild cats, bears, and wolves, all perfectly adapted to life in the ice age.

River's influence Ice Age expert Andy Currant is investigating the ancient specimens using C14 dating techniques to get a better understanding of the time period.

"So much is still unknown about the Ice Age. We're discovering new evidence all the time.

"At the Natural History Museum we have the best collection of Ice Age mammal fossils in the UK and, working with experts from other institutions, we're using our fabulous resource to try to put together this piece of unwritten history."

Much of London is built on deposits laid down by the River Thames.

The river was diverted to its present course through London by glacial ice over 400,000 years ago and has since left behind a complex series of gravels, sands, silts and clays, many of which contain abundant fossil remains of plants and animals, and, most interestingly, large, extinct mammals.