University College London (UCL) scientists scoured the continent to collect dozens of ancient bones and teeth which, when radiocarbon dated, revealed that the Eurasian giant deer survived to 7,000 years ago, much later than previously thought.
Giant deer first appeared about 400,000 years and roamed much of the Eurasian continent alongside the woolly mammoth. The magnificent beasts 2 metres in shoulder height with antlers spanning 3.5 metres - appear to have made their final stand in the Ural mountains on the boundary of Europe and Asia, possibly the last haven for a species which was being progressively wiped out by climate change and the spread of ice sheets, according to the study by UCL Professors Adrian Lister and Tony Stuart, published in the latest issue of Nature.
Unfortunately for these majestic beasts, the extra three thousand years takes them well into the modern era when Stone Age hunting was at its most refined. The question is, did early man develop an appetite for supersized deer?
Professor Adrian Lister says: "Although we can now bring the extinction date forward by 3,000 years or so, we still can't tell what actually killed off these beasts. Man could have been the ultimate destroyer, but climate change might also have been the culprit. This is the mystery we have yet to solve.
"A double-whammy of intense cold spells around 20,000 and 10,500 years ago had already taken their toll on these striking beasts. The last of the giant deer, squeezed out of Europe, seem to have taken refuge in the southern Ural mountains near the Black Sea. The next question we need to address is what finally killed them off, whether it was hunting, agricultural clearing of land or changes in climate or vegetation."
Contact: Jenny Gimpel
University College London