12th Feb 2021
If you have ever visited Abbotsford, you can’t fail to have seen Sir Walter Scott’s prized elk* skull. With its long bony nose and massive antlers, this magnificent beast has presided majestically over the doorway from the Entrance Hall to the Ante Room at Abbotsford since Sir Walter Scott completed the Entrance Hall interior in the 1820s.
But, two centuries after Scott hung it there, the skull broke. The skull lost the lower half of the face including parts of the eye sockets, and the nose and upper jaw broke into fragments (please see the picture below). Luckily, the antlers were not damaged by the incident. The skull now needs significant repair work which is going to cost about £2,000 – can you help us Save Our Skull?
One lucky donor to our Save Our Skull appeal will WIN this unique Scotland rugby shirt. The shirt is signed by Scotland’s team captain Stuart Hogg and his winning squad who played Wales last autumn.
If you would like to be in with a chance of winning the signed Scotland Rugby shirt, once you've made your donation below simply e-mail your name and address to email@example.com.
Closing date: All entries received by 5th March 2021 will be entered into a draw to win the shirt. We will post the shirt to the lucky winner.
Huge thanks to Ewan for his kind donation of the shirt to help raise money to Save Our Skull. The shirt is medium adult size.
How to make a donation to Save Our Skull:
Online: You can donate any amount online! All contributions are very welcome.
By text: You can donate by text* (SMS) if you prefer:
To donate £3, text SCOTT252 to 70331
To donate £5, text SCOTT252 to 70970
To donate £10, text SCOTT252 to 70191
Thank you very much indeed for your generous support. Your donation will help pay for the repair of Sir Walter Scott's prized elk skull and ensure that it continue to greet visitors to Abbotsford for many years to come.
* Fundraising, payments and donations will be processed and administered by the National Funding Scheme (Charity No: 1149800), operating as DONATE. Texts will be charged at your standard network rate. For Terms & Conditions, see www.easydonate.org
What’s caused the damage?
As in this case, Scott tended to hang these kind of natural history specimens by passing metal support bands through the eye sockets. The skull was then fixed to the wall timbers, with the heavy antlers projecting forwards. Unfortunately, these areas of facial bone can be very thin and brittle compared with the rest of the skull, and 200 years of bearing the weighty antlers simply took its toll on the delicate structure.
How do you go about re-building a massive animal skull?
Scott probably never imagined that these rooms would still look just as he had left them two hundred years ago, so we not only need to repair the skull but also to find a 21st Century mounting mechanism that Scott would approve of. Thanks to the relatively new science of conservation, we now also understand a lot more about how to mount these fragile yet heavy objects.
Where did the skull come from?
This skull and its gigantic antlers were found in a peat bog on the estate of Abbotsrule, near Hawick. Scott was delighted that this prehistoric animal’s remains were in such a perfect state of preservation, given their age.
*What animal is it?
Sir Humphrey Davy, the famous chemist and friend of Sir Walter Scott, suggested that the remains were prehistoric and must belong to a creature now extinct, as the antlers display hybrid features of both the elk and the red deer. It is likely to be an example of the Irish Elk (also known as the Giant Deer), one of the largest species of deer ever to have walked the Earth and extinct now for at least 8,000 years. Irish Elk were huge: estimates suggest that this animal stood almost seven feet tall at the shoulder and Irish Elk bucks may have weighed in at as much as 700kg.
What needs to happen next?
The skull, antlers and the fragments of bone were gathered up and taken to the Scottish Conservation Studio for assessment by a conservation specialist. Once they are repaired, we intend to put the skull and antlers back on display but using a new mounting mechanism to support the weight of the antlers without causing stress to the fragile skull. To repair and re-mount the skull is going to cost about £2,000 – can you help us to Save Our Skull?