Palaeontologica Belgica

Flemish mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses preserved for posterity

Mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses and giant deer once roamed Flanders’ fields as remains discovered in Berlare (East Flanders) show.  A team of palaeontologists, scientists who specialise in species that lived in previous periods, are currently at work restoring the remains.

It’s been at least ten thousand years since these animals marauded the Land of Scheldt in East Flanders.  In Berlare all kinds of animal bones as well as shark teeth were recovered from a local sand quarry when it was first mined in the Seventies. Last year the collection was donated to the municipal authorities and Berlare is now eager to show off its natural sciences’ heritage. 

“The collection includes mammoth teeth, beaver and wolf jaws.  Feeding marks from cave hyenas have also been found suggesting these too lived here at one time” palaeontologist Anthonie Hellemond intimates.

To ensure the bones don’t turn to dust the local cultural centre is being turned into a restoration lab: “Up to five people will be at work restoring the remains of prehistoric beavers, woolly rhinoceroses and giant deer.”

The municipal authorities are still, racking their brains to decide what to do with this treasure when it has been restored.

The bones are tens of thousands of years old and urgently need to be treated.  Otherwise they will turn to dust. They contain pyrite.  When in contact with the air and dampness a chemical reaction occurs and the bones turn to dust.

“We prevent contact with the air and attack the pyrite to ensure the chemical reaction is stopped” says Anthonie as palaeontologists treat the bones with a preservative mixture.

The remains include wolf jaws.  “The Natural Sciences Museum has already shown an interest” says Anthonie. “It’s a rare discovery among finds from the Quaternary Period”.

The finds from the quarry also include shark teeth, but sharks were never indigenous.

“We possess several beautiful specimens” says Anthonie.  “It doesn’t mean sharks lived here, but when the North Sea flowed here the ur-Scheldt brought the teeth here from tropical waters. They remained in a clay layer at Berlare’s deepest point and got mixed up with the bones of other animals.”

Palaeontologica Belgica
Loading video player ...

Top stories