John Hesketh and the finding of the ‘Aveley Elephants’

Bob Williams (UK) These days, there is little doubt that amateurs can influence science. This is commonly encountered in astronomy, with the regular discovery of comets and asteroids by amateurs. On the other hand, with some noteworthy exceptions, it is not such a frequent occurrence in the science of palaeontology. However, a very significant example occurred in 1964 with the finding of what became known as the ‘Aveley Elephants’. Fig. 1. Until it was known that a ‘Brownie Box Camera’ had been used to take photos of the excavation, all photographs (such as this photo held at the Natural History Museum) were originally limited to those taken by officially sanctioned photographers. © The trustees of the NHM, London. The finder of the Aveley Elephants was a student at the time, undergoing his second year of ‘A’ level studies. His name was John Hesketh. The ‘Aveley Elephants’ were two late Pleistocene fossil elephant skeletons that were found virtually together and separated only by a vertical distance of about 30cm. They were identified as the skeletons of a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) and a straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus). At the time, the find was considered to be of major palaeontological importance and, were it not for the lack of further scientific research (see below), it should also have proved to be of great scientific value in the study of the environmental and climate conditions when the animals were alive. It was a find that greatly exceeded any previous mammoth discoveries in this … Read More

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