Fishermen Discover Antlers and Skull of Extinct Giant Irish Elk While Fishing in Northern Ireland

Irish Elk
In Northern Ireland, Raymond McElroy (pictured) caught the skull and antlers of an extinct Irish elk while fishing on September 5. Ardboe Heritage

Fishermen in Northern Ireland made an unusual catch on Wednesday when they reeled in the massive skull and antlers of an extinct great Irish Elk.

The artifact, estimated to be about 6 feet across, was discovered when Raymond McElroy and his assistant, Charlie Coyle, were fishing in the northwest region of Lough Neagh. The fishermen had let our their fishing net in water about 20 feet deep in the freshwater lake, Live Science reported.

The two were fishing for pollan between Salterstown Castle and Ballyronan when the massive skull and antlers became entangled in their net. McElroy told Belfast Live that when it came up the side of the boat in the net, he thought it was a piece of black oak.

"I was shocked to begin with when I got it over the side [of the boat] and saw the skull and antlers," McElroy said. "It's pretty good."

Coyle said the pair initially thought they had found an old tree, but when McElroy pulled it up, they saw it was the skull of an animal. "He said it's an elk! I said it's the devil," Coyle said, according to The Irish Post.

The skull and antlers were found in the same area as a lower jawbone that had been pulled from the lake in 2014. McElroy told Belfast Live he believed the two artifacts could be from the same animal. The jawbone discovered in 2014 was dated by Ulster Museum curator Kenneth James to be at least 14,000 years old.

Irish elk, or Megaloceros giganteus, have been extinct for more than 10,000 years. According to the University of California Museum of Paleontology, the name is a misnomer, as the animal was neither exclusive to Ireland, nor was it an elk. Rather, tt was a giant deer that lived throughout Europe, northern Asia and northern Africa.

The massive extinct animal stood up to seven feet tall and had antlers that spanned up to 12 feet.

Lough Neagh has provided other skeletal remains of the giant beasts. Pat Grimes, a local historian who photographed the recent discovery, told Live Science that a set of antlers attached to a skull were discovered in 1987. Fisherman Felix Conlon, who made the impressive find, donated the skull and antlers to a local school to display.

McElroy, meanwhile, has stored the antlers and skull in his garage until authorities decide where the skeletal remains will be permanently housed.