Today when we think of large animals roaming around London, we think of those who live in London Zoo, or of sculptures such as the lions in Trafalgar Square. But if we were to tumble back in time a hundred thousand or more years ago we would come face to face with some really big beasts: mammoths, rhinos and hippos. All of the beasts discussed in this article are currently on display at the Museum, either in our permanent London Before London gallery or as part of our Beasts of London exhibition, and all form part of the Museum of London’s collections.
Evidence for the large animals that lived here, have been recovered from right across London. Let’s start in the east, in Ilford, where some of the most famous of these big beasts have been found over the last 150 years. In total, at least 122 individual animals have emerged since 1824, from pits dug to extract clay for brick-making. They died around 200,000 years ago, probably drowning in a catastrophic flood that inundated the land. Among the animals found were brown bear, elephant, mammoth, giant deer, lion and aurochs (the ancestor of modern cattle). Most of the bones are in the collections of the Natural History Museum, but two, part of a jaw and a tusk from woolly mammoths, were donated to the Museum of London in 1913 and are on display in the London Before London gallery.