Malcolm Rolling writes from Durham, wondering if we can shed any light on a giant, fossilised elk skeleton from the Pleistocene period, with antlers 11ft across, that he remembers seeing in the palaeontology department in the university many decades ago.

Such a sight would stick in the memory, not just because of its size but because of its rarity.

The elk is the largest member of the deer family and, thousands of years ago, was common across Europe.

It has been extinct in England for millennia, although the last ones survived in Scotland until about 900AD.

Darlington and Stockton Times: An elk, or moose, in Canada: such sights were once common in Neasham

Today the elk, which likes chilly conditions, clings to existence in Scandinavia, but thrives in Siberia and in the cold of north America, where the Canadians called it the “moose”.

There have only been two elk skeletons discovered in the north of England. One, known as Horace, to this day has pride of place in Preston museum. Horace was found in 1970 when a bungalow was demolished, and his skeleton has several human weapons – bone spears with flint-tipped heads – embedded in its bones.

It is assumed that Horace escaped his pursuers, which came at him from both sides, by plunging into a lake, only to drown.

The 13,500-year-old skeleton is important as it is the earliest evidence of humans in Lancashire.

The only other elk to be found in the north is the Neasham Elk, which was found on June 17, 1939, when a landslip at Neasham brickworks revealed a “practically complete skeleton” which only had one antler.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

The brickworks were a little north of the village of Neasham, at Skipbridge where the land rises from the Tees. A caravan site at the “Old Brickworks” is today clustered around the flooded claypit.

The discovery of the Neasham Elk caused much excitement, and for a decade, scientists in London prodded and poked it. They concluded that it was from the end of the Pleistocene period – the last Ice Age – and soil samples taken from around it showed it was living in a birch wood.

They thought it was an elderly creature that had stumbled into boggy pond and had not had the strength to escape.

Whereas Horace the Preston Elk is revered, the Neasham Elk is forgotten. Its skull, with one antler hanging forlornly from it, was on display at Darlington’s Tubwell Row museum, which closed nearly 30 years ago, and there haven’t been any sightings since.