A Woolly Mammoth Bone Washed Up on A Scotland Beach

An illustration of a group of woolly mammoths grazing in grassland. A woolly mammoth bone was recently discovered on the beach in Scotland. Getty Images

When a man found a 2-foot long bone while strolling along the beach in Scotland, he knew he had come across something special.

"I'd never seen a bone so large before," Nicholas Coombey, a marine conservation worker, told The Times of London.

The National Museum of Scotland later confirmed that the bone is from a woolly mammoth and it is most likely part of the femur. This discovery is the first mammoth bone to be discovered in Scotland, and experts think that it could be 30,000 years old, although the exact age is still being calculated.

A woolly mammoth bone that was washed up on a beach in Scotland. Solway Firth Partnership

The bone might have been preserved inside geologic deposits for thousands of years, where it could have been encased and protected by natural materials like gravel and sand, East Tennessee State University paleontologist Chris Widga told Newsweek.

Over time, these deposits erode and the bones are brought to the surface, but if they are not discovered quickly, they can easily be lost to science.

"Once a bone breaks free from a geological deposit there is a window of time when it can be salvaged before it is weathered and beaten to dust," Widga said. "You end up with a kind of fragile paleontological record and it is during that window when that bone needs to be discovered."

Some tusk fragments and teeth have been found in Scotland before, but this is the most preserved piece of bone discovered so far. It isn't uncommon for fishing boats in the North Sea to bring up bones like this one, said Warren Allmon, the Director of the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, New York.

"They are very well-known. They have been found for centuries," Allmon told Newsweek. The reason for that is that 20,000 years ago the dry land of Europe was a lot bigger and sea levels were lower. During this time, millions of mammoths roamed the planet and their bones have since been deposited under the sea.

Wooly mammoth bones are far less common in Scotland than in other parts of the world because of its unique geological history. Within the last 30,000 years, the land there was covered in ice, and melting glaciers are not the best environment for preserving fossils.

"Glaciers are tough on entire landscapes. They scour away sediment or soil on the surface, as well as any bones that are in it," said Widga.

Then, when the glaciers melt, there is a lot of erosion from the rushing of water. "In the end, you still get pockets of sediment where bones and teeth are preserved, but they have often had a rough journey before they were buried," said Widga.