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Historic Cumbrian wolf showcases its new look at Kendal Museum

27 Jul 2017

If the new series of Game of Thrones has reignited interest in medieval history and the role played by wolves, then the skeleton of what is now known to be a 12th century Cumbrian wolf can currently be seen at Kendal Museum.

The unusually complete skeleton of the Helsfell wolf has been given a new lease of life after undergoing careful restoration work at the Lancashire Conservation Studios in Preston. 

As part of a project to extensively clean, rearticulate and preserve the wolf for future generations, it needed to be completely dismantled, with every bone being photographed and assessed with a detailed treatment plan. Due to the age of the skeleton, a number of ribs, the sternum, half the tail and two toe digits were discovered to be missing. These lost bones have now been illustrated through the use of modelled replacements by 3D printing in solid nylon or resin, which is distinct in colour from the real skeleton.

The Helsfell wolf was excavated in 1880 by local archaeology enthusiast, John Beecham who wanted the specimens he discovered to be placed in Kendal Museum’s care, where the wolf has now been for more than 100 years.

Even prior to its rearticulation, the skeleton of the Helsfell wolf was unique in its Cumbrian context and connects the county’s ecological past, present and future. During the project, more was also discovered about the full extent of its significance when it was revealed that the skeleton dates back to the 12th century and specifically the period between 1139-1197, rather than the 16th century as was previously thought.

Carol Davies, Curator Manager at Kendal Museum, said: “Cumbria as a wild environment is evoked by the legend of the Helsfell Wolf together with the bones of many other animals including wild cat and bear, that were found in Helsfell cave. Through the conservation and dating of this specimen, we are now able to learn so much more of this bygone time and the animals that once hunted and lived so close to the museum site.”

The Helsfell wolf is now the proud centrepiece of the new Predator Showcase in the Museum’s World Wildlife Gallery, which also includes the white tailed fishing eagle – the largest bird of prey in the UK, and a giant pike from Windermere.

The restoration project was thanks to an Arts Council PRISM Grant of £2605 plus £260 match funding from Kendal Town Council. Lucie Mascord at the Lancashire Conservation Studios in Preston carried out the restoration work and the skeleton was radiocarbon dated at The Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC).