The near-complete remains of a woolly mammoth skeleton have been discovered on the banks of the river Marne near Paris, France.
The nine-foot mammoth, which has been nicknamed ‘Helmut’ by the archaeologists, would have roamed the grassy plains around Paris between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago.
The skeleton was an unexpected find for the team who unearthed the remains while excavating an ancient Roman site at a quarry in Changis-Sur-Marne, 30 miles east of Paris.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Greg Bale who is leading the excavation said: "Some archaeologists have spent have spent their lives dreaming of such a discovery with no luck."
While woolly mammoth skeletons are common in the fossil record in countries such as Siberia, it is rare to find such a well preserved skeleton as far south as this.
“Such a discovery in its original context is exceptional in France, since only three specimens were unearthed in 150 years,” write researchers from France's National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP).
The archaeologists have yet to determine the exact cause of Helmut’s death, but the discovery of Neanderthal flint weapons alongside the skeleton suggests that it may have been hunted and killed by Neanderthal man for its meat. Analysis of the flints, which should reveal if they have been used to cut through bone, could throw further light on the hunting abilities of Neanderthals.
"The greatest prize are the flints nearby," says Stephane Pean, another of the dig’s scientists. "They show the presence of man on the side, and will help us build up a better understanding of the Neanderthals, who were contemporaries of the mammoth."
The woolly mammoth, which would not be noticeably larger than today’s African elephants, disappeared from Western Europe around 10,000 years ago as a result of climate change.