Last week I went on a cold foray to the South Downs, elephant hunting. Pleistocene elephant hunting, to be specific.
In 1813, bones of an Elephas meridionalis (also known as Mammoth meridionalis) were found in Dewlish, Dorset, by a Mr Hall. This species probably lived during the early or middle Pleistocene (before 500,000 years ago) and the finds included teeth, teeth which included molars with unusually widely spaced ridges.
Towards the end of the 19th century further remains were discovered; archives list tusks, long bones and parts of a jaw and pelvis. They were buried in a narrow gully at the top of a steep escarpment east of the village, cut into bedrock chalk. Only at the time of excavation, the gully was not fully emptied ('bottomed out') and so there may still be information regarding the deposition, hidden somewhere beneath radishes and a brisk winter wind.
The gully also contained sands, gravels and silts - and it is those we were hoping to tell apart in our search for the gully itself, using electric imaging equipment. Our main kit for this was our usual port of call for such inquiries, an ABEM Terrameter LUND Imaging System (below right) and a CMD Explorer (below left).
Both pieces of equipment map changes in the electrical properties of sediments beneath the ground surface. Sediments such as chalk are expected to show high resistance (low conductivity) while the gully filling (sands and silts) might exhibit lower resistances and higher conductivity. The LUND system therefore allows us to create vertical sections through underlying sediments by measuring the resistance of the sediments to electrical currents. Likewise, the CMD system allows us to map changes in conductivity across the wider field span. In combination, these systems should help us to find the gully system in which the Dewlish elephant was discovered; the CMD system positioning the gully within the field and the LUND system showing us how deep it is.
(Photos courtesy of M.R.Bates)
And here are the team: Drs. Matt Pope, Becky Scott, Sarah Duffy, Martin Bates - and me.
In due course we will have the results back and from there we can begin to establish how accurate Matt's estimates regarding the location of this gully may (or may not) be, before actually beginning to dig. For further information regarding the find, go to Dorset County Museum's website at: https://dorsetcountymuseum.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/the-dewlish-elephants/
Who knows what lies quietly in the chalk, waiting for a chance to speak...