The Dewlish Elephants

From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 10, 1889, an article written by by John Clavell Mansel-Pleydell, Esq., F.L.S, F.G.S. entitled ‘Note on Elephus Meridionalis, found at Dewlish. With a History of the Proboscidian Family and Special References to E. Antiquus and E. Primigenius, whose Remains have also been Found in this County.

An excavation for building sand at Dewlish, between Dorchester and Blandford, uncovered a narrow fissure containing the bones of an elephant. The Dewlish elephant tusk is the most spectacular specimen recovered and is mounted on a massive wood and plaster block which is almost too large to move

John Clavell Mansel-Pleydell with Workmen taken in 1914. An excavation for building sand at Dewlish, between Dorchester and Blandford, uncovered a narrow fissure containing the bones of an elephant. The Dewlish elephant tusk is the most spectacular specimen recovered and is mounted on a massive wood and plaster block which is almost too large to move. DCM © 2015

Before entering into a detailed account of the discovery of Elephantine remains at Dewlish I propose giving a sketch of the Proboscidian family, from its first appearance to the present time. It includes Deinotherium, Mastodon, and fflephas ; the two first are extinct, the last constituted several species, of which two only now exist — the Asiatic and the African Elephants.


The career of Deinotherium was a short one, limited exclusively to the Miocene age. Great Britain, as far as it is known, was not submerged during that age, and formed part of the Continent, hence the remains of Deinotherium have not been met with in these islands. The lower . jaw had two powerful tusk-like incisors directed downwards vertically, which were used either in digging up the roots on which it fed, or in mooring itself to the banks of
the river it inhabited, for, like the Hippopotamus, it was probably aquatic. The upper jaw had no molars ; neither the upper nor lower were provided with canines. The molars were crossed by transverse ridges, somewhat resembling the Mastodon. Deinotherium giganteum appears to have been the only species.


This extinct family is represented by seven species, ranging in Europe and Asia, from the Miocene to the Pliocene. In North America its remains occur as late as the Pleistocene. Both the upper and lower jaws of Mastodon are furnished with tusks, those of the lower jaw disappearing in the adult state. It differed from the Elephant in having three molars in use at the same time. The crowns had mammillated boss-like tubercles with transverse ridges standing out in bold relief. In many species of Mastodon there is a true vertical succession, affecting the third or the third and second molars instead of the horizontal forward succession of replacement, as is the case with Elephants. The range of the genus is very extensive ; it has been supposed to reach Australia. A fragment of a tusk found near Moreton Bay, Queensland, was described by Sir R. Owen (Proc. Royal Soc, March 30, 1882), the Australian origin of which there is no question.

The true Elephants appeared like the Deinotherium and Mastodon, in the Miocene age. They are grouped by the late Doctor Palconer under three suborders — Stegodon, Loxodon, and Eu-elephas, of which Stegodon approaches nearest the Mastodon in the mammillary form of the crown-ridges, so much so that if the crown of a molar of Stegodon is denuded of its coat of cement it would be referred to Mastodon rather than to Elephas. Three of the four species of this genus are restricted to the Miocene formation of India, the fourth, S. insignis, survived the Pliocene age of that country.

Loxodon is represented by the living African Elephant. It differs from Stegodon in the character of the molars, which are more elevated and the enamel thinner. The European Pliocene, Elephas meridionalis, the chief subject of the present memoir, belongs to this section, Elephas planifrons, of the Upper Miocene Sewalik Hill formation of India, and the Post-pliocene pigmy Elephants of Malta, E. Melitensis, which was not more than feet high, and Elephas Falconeri, Busk, which did not exceed or 3 feet.

Eu-elephas is represented by the living Indian Elephant. It includes also E. antiquus and the Mammoth ; both are of the Pliocene age, and jorobably appeared during the latter part of it, when the warm temperature of the earlier period had given place to the cold which began then to set in — the precursor of the Glacial Period. The Pliocene beds give no evidence of a true glacial fauna, neither in the alluvial deposits of the valleys of the Po and of the Arno, nor in the corresponding deposits on the northern side of the Alps, the valley of the Rhone, and other parts of Switzerland. The climate was more equable and of a higher temperature than at present ; the flora  then was remarkably uniform in France and in Italy. The Pliocene flora of Lyons, of the Cantal in France, of Bologna, and Tuscany in Italy, connects the past and present plant-life of Europe with those of distant regions, now separated by extensive seas, such as America, the Caucasus, Japan, and China. The Valley of the Po was then an arm of the sea, which stretched into what are now Alpine valleys. The Valley of the Arno was also submerged at this period. In the overlying marine deposits both fauna and flora shew a considerable lowering of the temperature ; immigrants from the north were introduced and largely prevailed towards the end of the Pliocene period, reaching as far southward as Sicily. I expect it was at the later period Elephas meridionalis, Hippopotamus, and Rhinoceros Etruscus (leptorhinus) and Irish Elk were driven southwards, and were hardy enough to endure the changes attending the early part of the Glacial Period. As there was then land communication with Africa, some found refuge there, others unable from some cause or other to reach it in time perished. Of the above named animals, as well as Machairodus latidens, Rhinoceros megarlmius, Ursus Arverne?isis, Hippopotamus is theonly one now living, therest having perished from inability to survive the new state of things. Elephas meridionalis has been traced in the Italian interglacial beds, on the plains of Arezzo, and in the freshwater beds of the Upper Yal d’Arno, also in the French interglacial beds of Perrier near Issoire, in the Valley of the Allier, where it is associated with the Mammoth, also in a Pleistocene alluvial deposit in the Valley of the Khine, between Lyons and Bourg. In England deposits of the Pliocene age occur in the submerged Forest-bed of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, and in the high and low-gravels of the Thames Valley, which contain the same association of Mammalian remains as in the sub-Appenine Pliocenes of the Valleys of the Po and of the Arno. These are overlaid by beds of boulder-clay of the Glacial Period and by superficial gravels of the post-glacial ages. The Crag is the lowest British horizon in which Proboscidian remains have been found — Mastodon, Elephas meridional^, Elephas antiquus, together with Hippopotamus and Rhinoceros Etruscus (leptorhinus). Elephas antiquus has been found at Bracklesham Bay, in the Isle of Wight, and at Pagham Harbour in Suffolk, in mud-deposits, which were evidently laid down when the temperature was moderately high. These are doubtless the oldest Pliocene beds in England, contemporary with the fluviatile beds of Gray’s Turrock in Essex.

The probable climatal condition of Europe during the Pliocene age may be inferred from the Hippopotamus, whose remains are locally abundant in the beds of that period. It is an amphibious animal, spending the day either floating on, or swimming near the surface of the rivers they inhabit, and roaming at night to feed on and near its bank. Wherever it is now found there is open water all the year round. A frost of twenty-four hours’ duration, sufficiently severe to freeze over the lakes or rivers it inhabited, would cause a disastrous annihilation of every Hippopotamus thus imprisoned. It appears to have been spread over the whole of the Pliocene area of England in the Valleys of the Severn, the Avon, the Thames, Kirkdale Cave, and Kent’s.Hole. It has been found at Motcombe in this county. A comparative warm temperature throughout the year may be also inferred by the presence of southern freshwater shells which are now extinct in England. It is probable that not more than one species of Elephant occupied one district at the same time, and the district must have been extensive. The supply of food they required must have been enormous, and no district could have maintained two species of such large animals, whose habits are gregarious and their food similar ; if we draw an analogy from our own experience at the present day, we find only one species of Elephant, Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, Camel, Giraffe, Ostrich, or Crocodile, in any one given district. A similar law doubtless existed in geological times. The comparatively meagre flora of the Forest-bed, as determined by Heer, in which the three species of Elephants occur — leads us to a similar conclusion.

ELEPHAS MERIDIONALIS (0. Fisher, ” Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society,” vol. xliv.,p. 818, 1888.)

Although a contemporary with Elephas antiquus and the Mammoth, it appeared at an earlier period than either. It is designated by Nesfre as being the most ancient elephant. Until the discovery of its remains at Dewlish it had been only known as occurring in the Forest-bed of the eastern coast. Its European distribution, however, extended through the northern, central, and southern Departments of France, and with the exception of some notifications of it in Northern Italy and South-eastern Europe, there are not any well authenticated records of it elsewhere in Europe. It is found with Mastodon in the Valley of the Arno and in Piedmont, also on the north side of the Alps. In the Pliocene alluvium of St. Prest in France it is the only Elephant ; this is the case in corresponding beds in the Departments of the Gard and of the Herault, and in the sub-volcanic Pliocene alluvium beds of the Auvergne and of Yelay, where the Mastodon also occurs, but in a lower horizon. Elephas meridionalis exceeded the two other British Elephants both in size and height. It stood 17 feet from the withers, its limbs were enormous, as may be supposed, to enable them to carry such a weighty bulk. Being a Pliocene animal, it was probably unfurnished with hair. Its molars shew a greater width of crown than any of its congeners ; the enamel-plates are thick with wide intervening ridges of cement. The height of the molar is low in comparison to its breadth, the fangs, especially the anterior, one being long and strong. Their discs, when only partially worn down, shew the rings of digitation, in proportion tothe amount of wear. The molar belonging to Mr. Kent (here exhibited) had just come into wear, from which an idea may be formed of the appearance of a new unused tooth. The tusks are enormous, commensurate with the rest of the animal ; the alveoli in which the tusks were inserted form elongated massive cylinders. They have a slight outward divergence, which is obviously necessary, as otherwise the tusks would interfere with each other had the distal end of the alveoli converged. The osteology of Elephas meridionalis agrees in its general character with those of the other two species, although differing materially in size. Both the shoulder and pelvic-girdles of the Dewlish Elephants, which were fortunately entire, corresponded nearly with the dimensions of this species, given by Mr. Leith Adams in his Monograph of British Fossil Elephants. In spite of the care and pains I took to remove the abundant remains from the bed, by applications of hot liquid glue, fish-gluten, thick coatings of plaster of Paris, and strong supports, the disintegrating effects of the impalpable sand, which filled up every osseous cell, neutralised it all ; many vanished before our eyes into “dust and ashes.”


This Elephant also preceded the Mammoth in point of time and was its contemporary as late as postglacial times. It appears not to have had so wide a range ; its remains having not been notified from a locality of higher latitude than 54 degrees north, in North Western Europe. It survived the Glacial Period and is found abundantly in Southern Europe, on the south side of the Alps and of the Pyrenees, but it is only on the northern side of these ranges its remains have been found with those of the Mammoth and Elephas meridionalis. It is common in Italy, and has been found in many parts of Sicily and in Piedmont, in the neighbourhood of Rome and Florence, also in Spain and as far south as Gibraltar. It is scarce in France, the Yalleys of the Somme and of the Marne only have yielded any of its
remains. Some have been obtained from the preglacial beds of the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts, from the more recent river and estuarine beds, and from cavern and fissure deposits. The English quaternary alluviums which cover the boulder-clay in the
eastern counties are not rich in remains of Elephas antiquus, Mr. John Evans gives a list of the drift-beds in England, and cites one instance only of Eleplias antiquus, in a bed which does not lie under the boulder-clay. Until Falconer’s time this species was supposed to be only a variety of the Mammoth, neither were the two forms of the crowns of its molars — the broad, and the narrow — differentiated by any previous palaeontologist. The lower molars have a slight central expansion of the crown more or less angular, the crimping varies in different teeth as well as in the same tooth, according as the crown has been more or less worn down. Some of the digitations of the plates show disconnected discs as in Eleplias meridionalis, while the rest have a continuous, unbroken double-edge of enamel.

Professor Boyd Dawkins considers the tusks of Elevlias antiquus to be nearly straight. Mr. Leith Adams (1881) thought this fact had yet to be identified. This will be referred to further on, where a remarkable double curved tusk very different in shape and bulk to that of E. meridionalis is described.(See Prof. Prestwiche’s ” Notes on the Phenomena of the Quaternary Period in the Isle of Portland and Around Weymouth.” Q.J.G.S., 1875.)

In an irregular trough or depression of the Purbeck and Upper Portland beds from 20 to 30 feet thick and from 50 to 60 yards wide, extending to a distance from 200 to 300 yards underlain by large waterborne blocks on the surface of the Upper Portland rocks in the eastern part of the Admiralty Quarries, Portland, is a Manmiiliferous Drift, composed of red clay or brown, passing into coarse loam with angular debris of Portland and Purbeck beds,
together with a considerable number of blocks of hard Sarsen stones, underlain by a layer of waterborne rounded pebbles, and in a matrix of sand red-loam, mixed with peroxide of manganese ; the pebbles were perfectly clean and polished surface. In the lower part of the deposit numerous mammalian remains were found, including a large number of teeth of elephants. Mr. Busk identified a well marked molar of Elephas antiquus and fragments, apparently of the Mammoth. Another molar, belonging to R. Damon, Esq., F.G.S., is kindly lent to us to-day for exhibition. I had the good fortune to accompany Professor Prestwich during his examination of this interesting deposit.


The Mammoth. — This, like E. antiquus, comes under Doctor Palkner’s subgenus, Eu-Elephas. It is the most interesting of all the extinct Elephants, owing to its having co-existed with man, as is proved by the implements and utensils of human manufacture found with its remains. M. Mortillet describes the figure of a Mammoth engraved on the beam of a reindeer’s horn from Montastruc, near Bruniquel, Department of the Tarn et Garonne, France, which served as the handle of a poignard. Its head is lowered, and the trunk lies perpendicularly between the fore-legs; the tusks form a support to the blade of the poignard, the tail has a thick, bushy tip, which, as M. Mortillet adds, would be the case of an animal covered as the Mammoth was with hair and wool. The Mammoth stands pre-eminent among its congeners in the wideness of its distribution. Its lighter frame and more pliable constitution rendered it capable of surviving the vicissitudes of climate to which it was subjected, and to which Elephas meridionalis and Elephas antiquus succumbed. It passed through the whole of the Glacial Period, and of the Elephant family was the only contemporary of man. Its remains are found in the Old World from the extreme North of Siberia to the farthest parts of Western Europe. It has been reported from Portugal, rarely from Italy, except in the north, near Turin ; it touched the Mediterranean basin at Ventimiglia, the present frontier of France and Italy, and
has been reported from the neighbourhood of Rome. It crossed the mountains of Northern Europe, and its remains have been found 70 degrees north latitude, in the Valleys of the Obi, of the Lena, and of the Tenisei. Its absence from Sweden, Finland, and Denmark may be accounted for by a submergence of those countries during the ice-age. A molar, and one only, has been met with in Denmark. Mammoth remains are found in the whole of Central Europe from Great Britain to the Caspian Sea and China. Its remains have been found in North America from Behring’s Straits to Texas. It is distinguished from the rest of the family by the plates of the molars being more numerous and narrower, the enamel extremely thin, and scarcely crimped.

Mr. Leith Adams shews that the number of ridges of each tooth, especially those at the posterior end of the series, is subject to every kind of variation, also in the number of plates of which each tooth is composed, but the thickness of the enamel varies so much
as to have given rise to a distinction between a thick-plated and a thin-plated variety; the former prevail mostly in Italy, the latter in Siberia and Northern Europe, including the British Isles.

There are many instances on record from Siberia of the soft portions of the Mammoth having been found preserved as fresh as if it had died yesterday. The date of the earliest record is 1692-95. In Lorenz Lange’s Travels, 1721, we are told how the Russian prisoners who were banished to Siberia obtained a livelihood by turning snuff-boxes out of Mammoth’s teeth. Sangtschof, who wrote in 1887 a description of his journey through Siberia, says the river at Alaseya had washed out of its sandy banks the skeleton of a gigantic animal, apparently about the size of an elephant. It stood in an upright position and retained its skin.

In 1806 Adams heard that a Mammoth, with its flesh, skin, and hair intact, had been found on the banks of the Lena, in latitude 70 degrees north, as early as 1801 ; three years after, in 1804, Schumakof, a Tungus chief, took away the tusks and bartered them for goods to the value of 30 roubles. Adams did not see the remains until 1806. In the meantime the natives had carried off a great part of the flesh to feed their dogs ; wild beasts too, had fed
upon it, and little more than the skeleton was left ; one of the forelegs had been taken away, the skin of the side on which the body rested was covered with hair, and so heavy it took ten men to drag it on to the banks of the river, which consisted of a continuous
and undisturbed bed of gravel intercalated with clay without boulders, supported by a, bed consisting of coarse sand containing boulders of various kinds and sizes. I will only name one more instance mentioned by Nordenskiold, who collected fragments of bones and pieces of the hide of a Mammoth at the confluence of the river Mesenken with the Yenesei 71°-28″ north in 1876. The hide was an inch thick and nearly tanned by age.

It was clear in Nordenskiold’s opirion it had been washed out of the tundra-banks ; close by it was a very fine cranium of the Musk-ox. In 1887 he found on the banks of a tributary of the Lena 69° north an exceedingly well preserved carcase of a Rhinoceros ( R. Merlcii Jaers). The nearer, he adds, we come to the coast of the Polar Sea the more common are the remains of the Mammoth, and nowhere are they found in such numbers as on the New Siberian Islands. Hedenström, in the space of one verst, saw ten tusks sticking out of the ground. Other animal forms occur on these half explored islands, which must have lived on the plains of Siberia with the Mammoth. As no flesh could remain without decomposition in an unfrozen bed, it is obvious that undecomposed and entire animals found in the Siberian tundras must have been frozen immediately after death, and remained so until extricated from their ice tomb, because exposure to the air through the melting of the ice would have caused decomposition to set in. This was Sir Charles Lyell’s view  —

It is certain,” he says, ” that from the moment when the carcases both of the Mammoth and Rhinoceros were buried in Siberia in latitude 64° and 70° north the soil must have remained frozen and the atmosphere as cold as at this day. It is clear that the ice or congealed mud in which the bodies of such quadrupeds were enveloped has never once been melted since the day when they perished, so as to allow the free percolation of water through the matrix, for had this been the case the soft part of the animals could not have remained undecomposed.” M. D’ Archaic, an eminent French geologist, expresses himself in similar terms.

It seems probable that Siberia enjoyed at no very remote period a climate sufficiently mild to afford food for Elephants or Rhinoceros of different species to those of the present day. It is supposed that such large animals would require a luxuriant vegetation for their support, but Darwin shows this to be erroneous. He says : ” The southern parts of Africa, though sterile and desert, are remarkable for the number and great bulk of their indigenous quadrupeds.” Dr. Andrew Smith saw in one day’s march in latitude 24° south, 150 Rhinoceros, several herds of Giraffes, and his party killed in one night eight Hippopotamus. ‘ Yet the country was thinly covered with grass and bushes about 4ft. high. Where Mammoth’s remains are now found in Siberia, lichens can only grow. Stumps of trees occur on the tundras associated with their roots and dissevered branches, which now grow a few degrees south, and much dwarfed. We are forced to the conclusion, therefore, that the temperature of Siberia was higher then than it is now. The food of this giant animal consisted partly of the leaves of fir, as shewn by their occasional presence in the interstices of their teeth. As yet the contents of the Mammoth’s stomach have not, I believe, been examined ; the brain, muscles, and tendons are the only portions which have undergone a microscopic examination.

One of the constant characters of the Mammoth’s molars of all ages and of all regions, is that the enamel-ridges rise only a very little above the ivory and cement. The alternate successions of enamel, ivory, and cement, are more condensed, and a larger number of plates form the part of the tooth which is in use. Lartel gives from 20 to 24 plates in a molar about 9J inches long. The number the same length of an Indian Elephant’s molar is not more than 16. The wide geographical range and long duration as to time of the Mammoth, extending from the Tiber 42° north, to the Lena, 70° north, and from Mexico 25° north to Eschscholtz Bay, 66° north, shews a remarkable pliancy and adaptation to changes and varieties of climate. The woolly covering which protected the Siberian form probably disappeared from the bodies of those which haunted the southern homes of the species.

The adaptation of the molar crowns for the food supplied by countries wide apart from each other, and not specially adapted more for one region than another, gave them facilities for a survival besides a robust constitution, for want of which the other two
species failed.

There are several records of the molars of the Mammoth having been found in this county — at Lyme Regis, Blandford, Encombe, and Portland ; also the magnificent scapula, from a gravel bed near the Lidden, which Lord Stalbridge so generously presented to the County Museum last year.

The tusks of the Mammoth have a double spiral curvature, amounting in some cases to three-fourths of a circle, with recurved points. The smaller tusk of the two before us shares some of these characters.

I have dwelt, perhaps, too long upon the general history of this very interesting family, with more special reference to the three British species which have been met with in this county. I now proceed with an account of the Elephantine remains from a remarkable bed reaching over and beyond the summit of a hill overhanging the village of Dewlish, which, with few exceptions, belong to Eleplias meridionalis. ” Hitherto no traces of Eleplias meridionalis have been discovered on dry land,” so wrote the late Professor Leith Adams in his Monograph on the British Fossil Elephants in 1877 ; sixty years before these words were written, four molars of this rare species were discovered in this bed. The discovery was attributable to the work of an humble fieldmouse in the construction of its winter retreat on the side of this barren hill ; the choice was made, perhaps, on account of its favourable western aspect. The sand scraped out attracted the attention of a passer-by, who was aware of the value of sand in a district in which this material is wholly absent. A facetious friend, referring to the first discoverer of the sand-bed, said ” No mouse before this gained such laurels — not mus ridiculus, but mus fossor proeelarus should be its title.” Two of the four molars above referred to are in the possession of Lady Michel ; the other two, a lower molar and part of an upper one, are in the Salisbury Museum. These last were described in “The Monthly Magazine” of May, 1814, thus: “Two animals, to all appearance coiled up like a serpent, which fell to pieces when being handled, and other matters which the workmen called hands, somewhat petrified (fangs of molars?). It appears like the upper jaw of an animal, the bars of the mouth petrified, but no teeth visible.”

Doctor Shorto had a clearer view of their value and character than the writer of the above extract, to whom he addressed the following letter : — ” I was at Dewlish last week and procured some of the matters taken from the pit on the side of the hill. They are the bones of Elephants.” The possibility of the occurrence of Elephas meridionalis elsewhere in England is hinted at by Doctor Falconer in the case of a molar described and figured by Parkinson in his British Fossil Mammalia from Staffordshire. ” Supposing,” says he, ” Parkinson’s record to be exact, it would in no way surprise him if teeth of Elephas meridionalis did not turn up among the remainsfound in the Valley of the Avon.”

Fossilised Tusk of an Elephant (Elephas Sp) from the L. Pleistocene beds at Dewlish DCM © 2015

Fossilised Tusk of an Elephant (Elephas Sp) from the L. Pleistocene beds at Dewlish DCM © 2015

This remarkable and exceptional Dorsetshire deposit stands above the village of Dewlish at an altitude of 90 feet on the summit of a hill, which spreads out eastward into an undulatory ridge, looking north and south. It is about a mile broad, and forms the watershed of the Milton and Dewlish rivulets ; the former being a tributary to the river Stour, the latter to the river Piddle. The face of the hill, as has been already noticed, looks M r estward, and is extremely steep at an angle of not less than 70°. The river, which flows more than 50 yards from the base of the hill, shews no traces of having at any time filled the valley, there being a total absence of terraces. After a careful examination of the
western side of the valley, which rises less abruptly, and testing several places on the same level as the deposit on the opposite side, I found no traces of it. There was the same bed of hard stubborn clay ( glacial ? ), which caps the hill on the western side of the valley, and differing only in being in contact with undisturbed chalk.


  1. Mould, about 3 inches.
  2. Chalk (rubble), 10 inches.
  3. Stiff red clay, 6 inches.
  4. Fine impalpable sand and flint (remains of Elephant), 3 feet.
  5. Sand and ferruginous gravel (small), 3 inches.
  6. Flint material waterborne, 15 inches.
  7. Sand and ferruginous gravel’ (larger than No. 5), 3 inches.
  8. Sand (the lower portion with different sized flints), 12 feet.
  9. Chalk.

Of these six beds each shews the different conditions under which it was laid down, torrential or placid, only one is fossiliferous, consisting of flints of different sizes and of the finest impalpable quartz sand. The largest flints and bones lie at the bottom, the lighter
above, where the sand predominates. Beneath this bed are two others, separated from each other by a thicker bed, containing sand and waterworn flints. The uppermost of the two consist almost entirely of small, thin, flat, shell-like flints, not thicker than a threepenny piece, very much oxydised. The lower one resembles the upper in every respect, except in the size of the flints, which, although larger, retain their flat shell-like character. The carrying powers of the stream Avere evidently more powerful in one case than in the other.
The question which suggests itself is, as to what mechanical agency was employed to sort these light and buoyant flints from the rest of the material borne with them on the current. It would be intelligible if other objects of all shapes and sizes and of equal weight were present, but this is not the case in either of the two beds. Many of the flints in the upper beds of the deposit are highly polished, apparently by trituration after deposition, as the polish is absent on the surfaces abutting the blocks of chalk, which are interspersed here and there, and which at first sight gives one the idea of the intervention of a fault ; they had evidently fallen from the massive chalk as the torrent or invading flood passed over. The preservation of the smaller tusk I attribute to the protection it received from one of these blocks falling across it bridge-like instead of upon it.


a. A line representing the outline of the valley.
b. River bed.
c. Middle chalk, forming the eastern side of the valley.
d. Elephant bed extending to E.
e. Dotted line representing former level (theoretical)
of the chalk prior to denudation.
f. Probable extension of the Pliocene bed over the chalk.
g. Dry valley.

The presence of so many Elephantine remains in this limited space goes far to strengthen the idea that they belong to Mephas meridionalis, without taking into account the pronounced character of the molars and the tusk which distinguish it from the Mammoth, the limbs and teeth of which, as met with in England, are invariably dissociated and isolated ; never found, as in this case, with several of its bones together.

Right half pelvic of E. meridonalis

Right half pelvic of E. meridonalis

In the year 1883 a labourer of Mr. Kent’s found a molar in the sand-pit from which the previous four had been found in 1813. This tooth had not come into use at the time of the animal’s death, for the digitations of the plates are scarcely worn and shew their incipient points. Elephants’ molars are not displaced vertically like other mammals, but move forward in the jaw horizontally, pushing on the preceding tooth as plate by plate wears out, and at last taking its place in succession. This second jind stimulated me to examine the pit, and I soon found a humerus of gigantic size. After removing the surrounding flints and sand with considerable care I successfully laid bare the bone, portions of which fell to pieces as soon as touched. In hopes of its preservation by douches of liquid gelatine, and a covering of cement, I left it after carefully protecting it with a covering of sacks and hurdles. An inroad of idlers the next day (Sunday) saved me any further trouble, for on my next visit I was pained to find the sacks and hurdles had been removed and not a vestige of the limb remaining — all was without form and void. The length of the humerus was nearly four feet, its width at the joint furthest from the shoulder — distal end — was nine inches. In September, 1887, Mr. Osmond Eisher, who had seen the two molars in the Salisbury Museum already alluded to labelled Elephas meridionalis, visited the locality, and by a fortunate coincidence I was his companion during the limited time at his disposal — about three hours, when he found a portion of a nearly worn down molar. Acting under his advice I continued the search systematically for sveral days, on the first day I obtained the border and fossa of a massive prescapular, the ridge, spine, and posterior border absent. This fragment, for so it might be called, was three feet six inches long. Close by was another bone, which might have been an ilium ; it had no medullary cavity, its length was one foot nine inches, constricted towards the middle, where its breadth was reduced from one foot one inch at the extremity, to only eight inches and a-half. A diagonal ridge traversed the bone from end to end. All attempts to save these bones were unavailing. The usual consistent adhesiveness of the thin liquid glue application failed to consolidate the bone, for the cells were filled with the impalpable, penetrating sand-grains. The next find was a left alveolus, three feet two inches long ; the diameter of the orifice to receive the tusk was five and a-half inches, which corresponded with the diameter of the anterior end of a tusk which was lying near it, its posterior end expanded into a thin, wing-like plate. The remains of other tusks were profusely disseminated in the upper part of the fossiliferous bed.

The following is a list of the remains found in the year 1888 : —

  1. A left humerus 4 feet long.
  2. A radius 2 feet long.
  3. An ulna, length 2 feet 2 inches.
  4. An entire scapula with ridge and recurved process.
  5. The anterior border and fossa of a scapula 3 feet 6 inches long, and 9 inches from the border to the ridge and spine.
  6. The left side of a pelvis, ischium missing ; length of ilium and outer border 3 feet 10 inches.
  7. An ischium (?) detached ; length (transverse) 2 feet 2 inches,breath at broadest end 1 foot 1 inch, at most constricted part inches.
  8. A femur, length 2 feet 3 inches.
  9. A tibia, length 1 foot 10 inches.
  10. The massive left alveolus of an upper jaw, the cavity of which corresponded with a magnificent tusk which lay near it. The orifice for the insertion of the latter was cylindrical and 6 inches in diameter ; the other extremity was somewhat flattened, expanding into a thin, wing-like plate on one side. Dr. Falconer considered the angle which the alveolus makes with the frontal plane affords a mark of distinction between E. meridionalis and E. primigenius, but unfortunately, owing to its detachment from the tusk, the angle cannot be ascertained. Its length is 3 feet 9 inches.
  11. A tusk 6 feet 2 inches long, and 6 inches in diameter at its base. The point, for about 18 inches, rested perpendicularly upon a bed of waterworn flints, mingled with fine quartz-sand. By a bold upward curve the tusk was raised two feet four above the base line, and lay nearly horizontally, at that level in a southerly direction. The posterior end lay within a few inches of the alveolus.
  12. A tusk of much larger dimensions, 7 feet 6 inches long, and 2 feet 3 inches in circumference at the base. About 1 8 inches of the anterior end missing. It was probably in this condition when the superincumbent bed of clay was deposited, as both are in contact. This tusk differs in shape from the preceding ; the curve (which bore its whole weight as it lay in the bed) had an upward and forward direction. Both extremities touched the clay -bed above. The deficient extremity probably had an outward direction.
  13. Remains of other tusks were scattered in several parts of the deposit. In some places the fragments of ivory were so numerous as to predominate over the other materials.
  14. A molar ; crown in use 4 J inches long, consisting of 6 plates (the anterior missing) ; 6 others unexposed and not in use. Breadth of fourth plate in use 3| inches, depth 4J inches.
  15. A molar; crown 7 J inches long, consisting of 10 plates. Breadth of fourth plate 3 J inches ; depth from tenth plate (posterior) to the fang 5 inches.
  16. Several other molars of Elephas meridionalis have been found, the whole number being seven, including three plates and part of the fourth in which the digitations are worn down into continuous ridges.
  17. Isolated plates of other molars are scattered in various parts of the deposit. I am inclined to view the bed as Pliocene, deposited immediately upon the Chalk after previous removal of the lower Tertiary beds, (of which there are abundant proofs in the neighbourhood), during one of the many oscillations to which Europe was subject during the Pliocene and Glacial ages. A denudation must have removed the Pliocene bed after its deposition, of which there are no traces left, as far as our present knowledge goes, except in the Dewlish sandpit, which has no connection with the Dewlish river ; the carrying force of the Pliocene stream appears to have come from the north-east, and the deposit laid down before the present features of the district were established. The angular flints of the Dewlish bed are rjrobably derived from the neighbourhood, the sand and quartz pebbles from some distance, the latter from an older bed invaded by the Pliocene flood bearing with it the massive bodies of elephants. The age of the bed will be ascertained with some certainty, if, on further examination next summer, we find remains of other mammalia, molluscs, and plants.
1. Elephas primigenius.  2. Elephas antiquus.  3. Elephas meridionalis.

1. Elephas primigenius.
2. Elephas antiquus.
3. Elephas meridionalis.

1. Scapula (one-tenth natural size).  2. Tibia (one-eighth natural size).  3. Radius (one-fourth natural size).  4. Humerus (one-eleventh natural size).

1. Scapula (one-tenth natural size).
2. Tibia (one-eighth natural size).
3. Radius (one-fourth natural size).
4. Humerus (one-eleventh natural size).

From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 14, 1893, an article written by by John Clavell Mansel-Pleydell, Esq., F.L.S, F.G.S. entitled ‘A futher note on the dewlish “Elephant Bed.”

Since writing my note on the Dewlish Elephant Bed, I have traced it to its termination, a distance of 103 feet, and instead of its having been deposited when the river flowed at a higher level than it does at present, which I thought at one time to be the case, I find it was carried into a fissure by a river or flood, before the formation of the Dewlish Valley, when the features of the district were different to what they are now. A fault which is apparent about three miles to the north, in the axis of the valley, has elevated its eastern side 84 feet. at an angle of about 74°, giving the strata a north and east dip. This fault has not affected the strata on its western side, the inclination of which is conformable to those of the district, extending to the Tertiaries, which appear farther west in the neighbourhood of Puddletown. The stream did not flow with uniform strength ; at times it was gentle enough to transport only the lightest materials ; at others it was capable of carrying down heavy objects. This seems to have been the case shortly before the fissure was filled up, as the large flints and elephant remains lay at the top of the deposit and so near the surface that
every bone, with the exception of the massive limbs, pelvic-bones, tusks, and molars, was dissolved ; every attempt failed to raise them from the matrix, and in spite of applications of thin liquid glue and coatings of plaster of Paris they crumbled into dust. The remarkable polished flints, interspersed in the upper part of the deposit, had been probably lying on the surface of a sandy plain, and their exposed parts subjected to the ceaseless friction of wind-blown sand.

Bones of

Bones of “Elephas Meridionalis” in fissure at Dewlish DCM © 2015

During the greater part of the Pliocene age the climate of Europe was warmer than it is now ; many plants and animals disappeared before the Forest-bed was laid down ; the Mastodon and Hipparion (the supposed ancestor of the horse) did so at an early period, and before the deposition of the Norwich Crag. Elephas meridionalis survived as late as the Forest-bed, but had at last to succumb to the rigours of the Glacial age. The more hardy Mammoth was the last to disappear, being less dependent upon the luxuriant vegetation of a tropical climate than E. antiquus and E. meridionalis ; the plates of its molars were narrower and interspaced with thinner wedges of cement, which were more suitable for browsing upon the stunted Arctic trees and shrubs.

Fissure at Dewlish. Containing remains of

Fissure at Dewlish. Containing remains of “Elephas Meridionalis” DCM © 2015

With the exception of the large herbivors the animals and the plants of Europe at the present day are similar to those of the Forest-bed age.

Fossilised Tusk of an Elephant (Elephas Sp) from the L. Pleistocene beds at Dewlish DCM © 2015

Fossilised Tusk of an Elephant (Elephas Sp) from the L. Pleistocene beds at Dewlish DCM © 2015

Of the fifty-six species of plants which Mr. Clement Reid has determined from the Forest-bed, all are now living in Norfolk with the exception of Trapa natans, the Water-chestnut, and the Spruce fir, both of which did not return to England after the Glacial age.
The Stag, Boar, Beaver, Glutton, and some insectivorous quad- rupeds which had been the companions of Elephas meridionalis, passed safely through that rigorous period. The Hippopotamus escaped the fate of the rest of the large herbivors by pushing its way southward before the climate became severe enough to cover the rivers and lakes with ice ; for, being an air-breathing animal, it is obliged to come occasionally to the surface. Its remains have been met with at Motcombe in this county, but no details of the bed, or the circumstances under which they were found have been preserved. They are met with frequently in the Pliocene beds of Italy and France. Near St. Brest, in the Valley of the Eure, beds of sand and flint-gravel of the Pliocene age, about 90 feet above the sea-level, occur similar to those of Dewlish, containing Elephas meridionalis and Rhinoceros etruscus.

Alveolus of Tusk

Alveolus of Tusk
“Elephas Meridionalis” DCM © 2015

The Dewlish remains lay at depths varying from three to eight feet from the surface ; beneath are lenticular beds of ferruginous loamy-sand, and two layers of thin flat-flints, of which the lowest are the largest — both are unaccompanied by any sand or loam. Large pieces of chalk, water-worn fossils — mainly consisting of Sponges and Bryozoa — sphseroidal flints, and some Palaeozoic pebbles lay scattered throughout the bed. After a careful search I have been able to find only two small patches of sand similar to that of the Elephant-bed, which must have found its way through crevices too small to receive any material of greater bulk. With the exception of the remains of this southern Elephant there is no other evidence of the geological age of the deposit, but it may. without much doubt, be assigned to the Pliocene.

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New Book: “Discovering Dorset’s Wild Flowers” by Peter Cramb.

John Mansel-Pleydell DCM © 2013

John Mansel-Pleydell DCM © 2013

Dorset is a special county for wild flowers. Its natural features provide many different plant habitats which in turn support a rich variety of beautiful, interesting and sometimes rare wild flowers. These flowers have been recorded by many generations of botanists and used by Dorset people as medicines, food, dyes, decorations and garden plants. As importantly, they have over the ages been a source of inspiration, joy and spiritual refreshment to countless individuals.

This book traces the history of the botanical exploration of Dorset from the early pioneers such as William Turner (c.1510-1568) and John Ray (1627-1705) to the first Dorset resident botanist, Richard Pulteney (1730-1801) and John Mansel-Pleydell, one of the founder members of the Dorset County Museum in 1845. The latter published the first full flora of Dorset in 1874, listing all the wild flowers then known in the county and was the first President of the Dorset Field Club – forerunner to the Dorset Natural History & Archaeological Society we know today. Subsequent floras were published in 1948 by Ronald Good (1896-1992), President of the Society from 1961-65, and in 2000 by Humphry Bowen (1929-2001).

The book also describes twenty of Dorset’s most interesting wild flowers, giving details of when, where and by whom they were first recorded in the county, their current distribution both in Dorset and Britain as a whole and their importance to people. These include Tree-mallow, first recorded by John Ray at Chiswell, Portland, in 1670, and the beautiful and rare Early Spider-orchid, first recorded by John Mansel-Pleydell near Worth Matravers in 1874. Both these and many of the other flowers described can still be found where they were first discovered, enabling the reader to follow in the footsteps of the pioneering botanists.

Discovering Dorset's Flowers by Peter Cramb

Discovering Dorset’s Flowers by Peter Cramb

Illustrated with the author’s photographs of the flowers and their habitats and line drawings by Margaret Cramb, Discovering Dorset’s Wild Flowers will appeal to members interested in the county’s wild flowers and also make an attractively priced gift for family and friends.

The author and publishers are generously donating all sale proceeds from this book
to the Dorset Natural History & Archaeological Society. It is on sale now in the Museum Shop.

  • Published by P. & M. Cramb (2013). 64pp. ISBN 978-0-9537746-4-7. Price £5.95.