While elephants themselves are something of a rarity in Suffolk, fossils of elephants and mammoths are a specialty in our county. Suffolk is home to the most complete range of mammoth and prehistoric elephant fossils in Britain, spanning more than 2 million years.
There are seven sites across the county where you can discover secrets of prehistoric Suffolk as well as numerous museums which house fossil collections. Download the Geo Suffolk Mammoth Trail for a full list of these areas to visit to begin your prehistoric adventure!
Suffolk wildlife has changed drastically over the last 2 million years. Today, the biggest mammal you can encounter in the wild would be a red deer. While no doubt impressive animals, they pale in size to the prehistoric creatures which roamed the countryside. It might surprise you to learn that 2 million years ago the climate was very similar to Suffolk today. The landscape was ruled by mastodon. Modern reconstructions based on skeletal remains depict mastodon being similar in appearance to elephants, and to a lesser extent mammoths, although they were not related to either one. Mastodon had shorter legs than mammoths, a longer body and were more heavily muscled. On average, mastodon stood at a height of 2.3 meters at the shoulder but males grow to heights of 2.8 metres. They had long curved tusks, and the tusks of males were larger and much more strongly curved. Another point of difference between mastodon and mammoth and elephant teeth is their teeth. Mastodon had cusp-shaped teeth - instead of a series of enamel plates - which were ideal for the mastodon diet of leaves and branches of trees and shrubs. Giant deer and gazelle roamed prehistoric Suffolk alongside the mastodon and faced the likes of the scimitar cat - a power predator. At this time, humans were evolving in Africa.
200,000 years ago the atmosphere was warmer and lead to the likes of mammoth, bison, horse, and straight-tusked elephants made Suffolk their home. Carnivores such as lions and hyenas hunted these animals and early humans - most likely Neanderthals - also lived here. The straight-tusked elephant were forest dwellers and were much larger than the mastodon. Growing up to 4 meters in height, the straight-tusked elephant had long tusks that curved upwards slightly. Their legs were longer than those of modern elephants and they had a tongue which reached 80cm - perfect for grasping leaves and grasses. It is believed this species became extinct about 115,000 years ago due to the Ice Age.
The last glacial - more popularly known as Ice Age - started over 100,000 years ago. The climate changed drastically - with the temperature and landscape more akin to the Arctic than what we experience in Suffolk today. 30,000 years ago the wildlife was dominated by woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison and reindeer. Our ancestors had recently arrived in Britain and preyed upon these animals - as did wolves and hyenas. Mammoths were adapted for life in the cold with a thick coat of hair and curved tusks which they would use to sweep away snow as they foraged for food. Woolly mammoths became extinct due to hunting and climate change a few thousand years ago. All that remains of them in Suffolk today are the fossils discovered over the years.
Fancy meeting a mammoth for yourself? Come to Ipswich Museum and see the life-sized model of a woolly mammoth and learn more about Ice Age Suffolk.