updated 1/21/2004 2:50:48 PM ET 2004-01-21T19:50:48

The unusually well-preserved skull of an Ice Age mammoth estimated to be 50,000 years old has been discovered in a gravel pit in southern England, an official said Tuesday.

The skull was found Jan. 11 in a pit in the Cotswold Water Park by Neville Hollingworth, a paleontologist for the Natural Environment Research Council in Swindon.

"The skull is exquisite. It is very finely preserved and almost looks like modern bone," Hollingworth said, calling it his best find in 20 years of collecting fossils.

Hollingworth said he was digging at the gravel pit with his colleague, Mark O'Dell, because some bone fragments from Ice Age mammals were found there recently.

"We didn't expect to find anything like this. It is quite amazing," he said.

"I saw a small piece of bone sticking out at the side of this clay face which had gravel in it. I started to dig and it got bigger and bigger."

Seven hours later, they unearthed the skull, which was so big it barely fit into the trunk of Hollingworth's car.

Adrian Lister, an expert on mammoths from University College London, carried out a preliminary analysis of the skull, which weighs between 175 and 220 pounds.

The tusks were missing, and Hollingworth plans to look for them in the quarry, which is flooded with rainwater.

The only other similar Ice Age specimen discovered in Britain is at the Natural History Museum in London.

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