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Visit Honiton and Discover the Honiton Hippo

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Among the hidden geodiversity gems that the County of Devon has to offer including its famous landmarks, stunning coastline, and well-known outdoor places to visit there are also its little-known and modest museums to celebrate that hold some of our finest collections of fossils including the "Honiton Hippo".

Fossil Remains of the Honiton Hippo - Allhallows Museum
Fossil Remains of the Honiton Hippo - Allhallows Museum

One such place to celebrate International Museum Day (#InternationalMuseumDay) is the Allhallows Museum along the High Street of Honiton in East Devon. Not only does this understated museum house an astonishing wealth of local heritage information and artifacts. The museum is also the oldest building in Honiton and importantly the home of the "Honiton Hippo" fossil remains.

International Museum Day

The objective of International Museum Day (IMD) is to raise awareness about the fact that, “Museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation, and peace among peoples. On behalf of Fossil Coast Drinks Co, we wanted to raise awareness of a small museum that you may not have heard of before but certainly packs a punch with an impressive fossil collection.

According to the International Council of Museums, “Museums are key contributors to the wellbeing and to the sustainable development of our communities.

As trusted institutions and important threads in our shared social fabric, they are uniquely placed to create a cascading effect to foster positive change. There are many ways in which museums can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals:

from supporting climate action and fostering inclusivity to tackling social isolation and improving mental health."

About Honiton, East Devon

The small market town of Honiton is located in East Devon. Its history dates back to the Roman occupation of the 1st century AD as an early settlement built along the Fosse Way linking the Exeter Roman Fort of (Isca Dumnoniorum) to the Roman Legionary Fortress (Lindum Colonia) in Lincoln.

Honiton or Honetone (an old English name meaning a farm belonging to Huna) is mentioned in the Domesday Book Britain’s earliest public record of land and landholding commissioned by William I in 1085. Since the Elizabethan and Victorian eras, the town of Honiton enjoyed royal popularity and patronage for its hand-made production of lace.

The Honiton Hippo

In 1965 during the weather-hampered construction of the A30 Honiton Bypass local children unearthed among the county’s youngest megafauna and megaherbivores fossils showing that the hippopotamus once lived in the South West of England during the Ipswichian Stage the last warm temperate interglacial period dated by the British Geological Survey (BGS) between 126,000 to 116,000 years ago.

Honiton Hippo at the Allhallows Museum
Honiton Hippo at the Allhallows Museum

These articulated fossil remains formed a relatively small bonebed believed to either belong to juvenile or elderly animals thought to have perished during a local natural disaster that happened along the Otter Valley where the weaker, young, and old animals had become trapped and died.

Interestingly the Hippopotamus appears in several temperate period fossil records in temperate periods of the British Pleistocene including the interglacial of the ‘Cromerian Complex’ as well as the Late Pleistocene Ipswichian Stage.

During the Ipswichian interglacial, global temperatures were generally warmer than during the preceding and subsequent glacial periods. Ice sheets and glaciers retreated, and sea levels rose as a result of the melting ice. This led to the expansion of forests and the proliferation of diverse plant and animal communities in many regions.

The Ipswichian Stage is also known as Marine Isotope Stage 5e (MIS 5e) and is sandwiched between the cold glacial intervals of the Mid Pleistocene Wolstonian (Saalian Stage of NW Europe) and Late Pleistocene Devensian Stage (Weichselian Stage in NW Europe).

In April 2016 excavations of sediments at Westbury Quarry (also known as Broadmead Quarry in Somerset) claims the first occurrence of the Hippopotamus in the British Early Pleistocene. Discovered by Ian Candy and by using the techniques of biochronology to correlate the time of biological events using fossils this hippo was approximately 1.5 to 1.07 million years old.

The Honiton Hippo dates to the Ipswichian interglacial a stage named after the town of Ipswich in eastern England where considerable research has been undertaken. This stage is considered to be one of the longest and most stable interglacial periods of the Pleistocene a significant interval in the Quaternary period.

The Ipswichian Stage is described in the research as a time of "enhanced global warmth" and was much warmer than today. The fossil record of the time shows an abundance of thermophilous or warmth-loving species of flowers and animals that are absent today.

During this time and living alongside the Hippopotamus was the straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus), narrow-nosed rhinoceros (Stephanorhinus hemitoechus), Lion (Panthera leo), spotted hyaena (Crocuta Crocuta), red deer (Cervus elephas), fallow deer (Dama dama) and extinct giant deer (Megaloceros giganteus).

The Ipswichian interglacial is of significant interest to scientists and researchers studying past climate changes. By examining the sediments, fossils, and other geological records from this period, they can gain insights into the Earth's climate system and the factors that influence long-term climate variations. It provides valuable context for understanding the current and future climate changes occurring today.

Enjoy both discovering the Honiton Hippo and your visit to the Allhallows Museum.


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