Photo gallery: West Runton elephant to ‘walk’ again

A life size mechanical mammoth which is nearing completion.
Jeremy Moore has built the mammoth which will be walked along the beach at West Runton next month.

Picture: James Bass A life size mechanical mammoth which is nearing completion. Jeremy Moore has built the mammoth which will be walked along the beach at West Runton next month. Picture: James Bass

Friday, July 25, 2014
8:56 AM

Aviation engineer Jeremy Moore is working on a Jumbo with a difference.

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For a massive mechanical marvel is taking shape at a secret location in Norfolk.

The 46-year-old plane maker and restorer is constructing a life-size mammoth that will “walk” along the beach at West Runton in the footsteps of its shattered ancestor whose bones were found in the cliffs there 24 years ago.

Mr Moore has been working for three months to create the model using the principles of “strength and lightness” he uses to build aircraft.

He said he was enjoying the challenge, but its volume made for some tricky engineering conundrums.

A life size mechanical mammoth which is nearing completion.
Jeremy Moore has built the mammoth which will be walked along the beach at West Runton next month.
The mammoth plans in the worksop.

Picture: James BassA life size mechanical mammoth which is nearing completion. Jeremy Moore has built the mammoth which will be walked along the beach at West Runton next month. The mammoth plans in the worksop. Picture: James Bass

Using aeroplane plywood and pine, the animal has been produced to scale and is four metres from ground to shoulder, just like the real thing – said to be largest and most complete fossilised elephant ever found.

The project is the brainchild of Suzie Lay, events co-ordinator at Great Yarmouth’s Time and Tide Museum. She has harboured dreams of bringing the West Runton Elephant “to life” for around seven years, having been inspired by a visit to its bones in store at Gressenhall.

“It is easily as big as some of the biggest herbivorous dinosaurs so to stand next to it is going to be like standing next to a dinosaur,” she said.

“It is incredibly inspiring to think that this fantastic creature had laid there for 750,000 years and had shaped a huge part of the geological history of Norfolk.

The West Runton Elephant

The internationally-renowned West Runton Elephant was found after a storm which had “cleaned” the cliffs leaving a protruding bone jutting out of the freshwater bed.

In December 1990, local residents Harold and Margaret Hems decided to take a walk on the beach and there, not far from the ramp, made their incredible discovery.

A year later, another storm uncovered further huge bones and it became clear that the West Runton find was extremely significant.

Excavations in 1992 and 1995 revealed the skeleton was almost complete,sending a stir through the fossil world.

Today most of the bones remain in storage at Gressenhall. Because the bones are sub-fossils they are very delicate and difficult to display, with a few specimens at Cromer and Norwich Castle.

Creating the model brings to life a stunning discovery that is packed away in drawers. It is hoped it will feature at exhibitions county-wide including at the neolithic mammoth butcher at Thetford.

The 10-tonne beast, which roamed the area some 700,000 years ago, was four metres high – twice the size of an African elephant.

Its 85pc complete skeleton is the most entire example of its species ever found in the world.

“I used to go round and do talks and take a bamboo cane with me to show how tall the elephant was. It came to me that Jeremy was the perfect person to build a mammoth because he had built aeroplanes that were lightweight and could move.

“They say that elephants never forget and we should not forget the West Runton elephant.

Most of the work is being done for free, supported by an Arts Council England grant.

Because the bones are not full fossils they are too delicate to assemble and display, making it difficult for people to appreciate the scale and magnitude of the giant elephant – a Steppe Mammoth.

Ms Lay, 48, added: “It is such a beautiful thing. What I want to do is bring a sense of the living past. I love the idea of seeing such a magnificent creature walking along the Norfolk beach close to where it was buried for 750,000 years.

“The landscape would have been very different, more like the Norfolk Broads and the climate would have been similar to today. So although he wouldn’t have been walking along a beach it will be great for people to experience the size, scale and magnitude of one of Norfolk’s most iconic animals.

“I want people to get a sense of what it would have been like to walk in the footsteps of the elephant – which they may have done because there is evidence that there were people about then.” The gigantic structure will be walked by a trio of retained firefighters from Martham (with Ms Lay hoping to be back left) on August 13 at 2.30pm along the beach to the excavation site at West Runton.

Each will be harnessed to a leg moving in time with its opposite corner.

Experts from the original dig will be on hand to answer questions and there will be general information about fossils. The head has been made by Norwich-based Tin House Arts.

Ms Lay has also written and illustrated a children’s comic book about the mammoth featuring Hugh Mungus and his tiny friend Shrewsbury Fines which will be available soon.

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