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Scientific name: Megaloceros, meaning ‘Giant Horn’

Common name: Giant deer, Irish elk

Lived: Open, park-like woodlands of Europe and central Asia.

When: 400,000 - 8,000 years ago

The giant deer survived until as recently as a few thousand years ago. Current evidence suggests it started to disappear in western Europe due to deteriorating climate at the end of the Ice Age from ca. 13,000 years ago, and finally became extinct from eastern Europe and Siberia following the spread of closed forests after the onset of the warmer Holocene Epoch ca. 11,500 years ago. However, the expansion of human populations in Eurasia may also have had a role in its disappearance. 

Size: The best known and most recent species of giant deer is Megaloceros giganteus, one of the largest deer known to have existed, standing up to 2 metres at the shoulder and with antlers up to 3.5 metres wide.

Diet: Plants (leaves and grass)

Statues: Family of two standing stags and a reclining doe and fawn.

Fun fact: One of the stags originally had actual fossil antlers but they had to be replaced when the statue couldn’t support them.

The Crystal Palace statues vs modern scientific reconstructions: The Megaloceros family are probably the most accurate of all the statues. As it became extinct relatively recently, intact fossil skeletons were available to base the reconstructions on, and they could also be modelled on living deer species. Its closest living relative is the fallow deer which also possesses similar, albeit much smaller, flattened (palmate) antlers.

Below, Megaloceros is depicted with a rounded, tall shoulder hump, a dark, collar-like band of fur that extends all the way to its back leg, and a pale head and neck contrasting with darker fur over the body. These amazing details are taken from cave art of the giant deer, another incredible resource for recreating extinct species if they lived recently enough and overlapped with modern humans.

© Copyright Mark Witton 2019

This reconstruction has been reproduced by kind permission of the very talented palaeoartist Mark Witton whose work you can read about, support and buy.

Last edited on 16 May 2019

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