MAMMOTH STONE AGE ABATTOIR DISCOVERED IN EAST ANGLIA
ARCHAEOLOGIST NIGEL LARKIN
WITH A MAMMOTH TOOTH
An extraordinary collection of mammoth remains and flint tools unearthed in a Norfolk quarry may be evidence of the first Neanderthal hunting camp discovered in Britain. The 50,000-year-old fossils and artefacts, among the best preserved in this country, are casting important new light on the lifestyle of Homo neanderthalis (Neanderthal man), the cousin of modem human beings that lived in these islands in the last Ice Age. A 12-week archaeological dig at a gravel pit has revealed a pile of at least seven tusks up to 8ft long, large teeth and partial skeletons from at least four mammoths, together with eight Neanderthal flint hand-axes, teeth from a woolly rhinoceros and reindeer antlers.
The close proximity of the Neanderthal tools and the animal remains - one hand-axe is actually inside a mammoth skull still attached to a tusk - suggests that the site was a hunting hide where the hominids ambushed their prey, or a scavenging ground where the kills of predators, such as sabre-toothed cats and bears, were butchered and eaten. Either way, the discoveries will help scientists to piece together new details of the Neanderthal way of life, solving puzzles about their diet and behaviour.
NEANDERTHAL WAS PRESENT IN EUROPE & ASIA
FROM ABOUT 130,000 TO 30,000 YEARS AGO
AT LEAST SEVEN TUSKS UP TO 8FT LONG, LARGE TEETH AND PARTIAL SKELETONS WERE FOUND
The Norfolk site contains a network of watering holes, which would have been an ideal spot for either activity. There are no Neanderthal bones or teeth, but their presence has been confirmed from the age of the dig and the style of the hand-axes. Andy Currant, curator of fossil mammals at the Natural History Museum, said that there was clear evidence of Neanderthal activity. "You don't get piles of tusks like this unless someone has gathered them up," he said. "It has to be deliberate. The hand-axe was the Swiss Army knife of the middle Palaeolithic. If you've got one actually in or on a skull, you don't have to worry what else you've got, there's butchery going on. I've never seen anything like this in Britain." David Miles, chief archaeologist for English Heritage, which funded the dig, said: "This is as good an example of a Neanderthal kill site as you will find. This site is not just of national but of international importance."
The best evidence for Neanderthal hunting comes from Germany, but the Norfolk hand-axes offer the strongest indication yet of such hunting in Britain, Mark White, a Palaeolithic archaeologist from Durham University, said: "It is valid to speculate that the Neanderthal had gone to this watering place because they knew they would find prey to kill."
Bill Boismier, of the Norfolk Archaeology Unit, who led the excavation team, said that the absence of cut marks on the bones, together with large numbers of carcass beetle fossils found, made scavenging more likely, although they did not rule out a Neanderthal kill. The excavations are the first to be supported with a grant from the Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund, which distributes money raised by a tax on gravel quarries to environmental and historical projects in such areas.
Neanderthal Man was present in Europe and Asia from about 130,000 years ago to, about 30,000 years ago, when it was supplanted by modern man, Homo sapiens. Woolly mammoth grew to about the same size as a modern Asian elephant, standing between 8ft and l0ft high at the shoulder and weighing between four and six tonnes when fully grown.
A REPORT BY IMOGEN MOWDAY FROM THE NEANDERTHAL SITE
These images were taken at a newly discovered Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) site in East Anglia dating from approximately 60,000 years ago. Archaeologists continue to work there and are revealing what may be the most important Palaeolithic site in Britain since evidence of Homo heidelbergensis, dating from circa 500,000 years ago, was discovered in Boxgrove in the 1990s. This new site has so far revealed over a dozen bout-coupe style handaxes, one of which is shown in photograph number one lodged against fragments of a Woolly Mammoth's tusk. The clear association of Neanderthal handaxes with a range of Glacial animal, insect and plant species makes this site the first of its kind to be found in the U.K.
A BOUT-COUPE STYLE HANDAXE LODGED AGAIN FRAGMENTS OF A MAMMOTH'S TUSK
IMOGEN MOWDAY AT THE
Woolly mammoth, bears, reindeer and frogs, and hundreds of flint flakes and tools. The exciting discoveries were made during the draining of a lake for gravel extraction. A local archaeologist who is a highly skilled flint-toolmaker (a knapper), was monitoring the gravel extraction to ensure that no archaeology was damaged or not recorded. The site first became clear to him when two large mammoth tusks protruded out from a layer of peat. Immediately work ceased and archaeologists began to record in fine detail the thousands of fragments of animal bones ranging from woolly mammoth to bears, reindeer and frogs, alongside many hundreds of flint flakes and tools.
A BOUT-COUPE STYLE HANDAXE LODGED AGAIN FRAGMENTS OF A MAMMOTH'S TUSK
A Neanderthal trap to kill or scavenge off large mammals. It has now become clear that the remains were deposited within ponds, which would have been set against a tundra backdrop: an environment containing little tree cover and perhaps a permanent layer of permafrost. These watering holes would have provided a perfect arena for Neanderthals to trap and kill large mammals, or to scavenge off the corpses of animals left by other carnivores. Future examination of all the flint tools and animal bones may be able to clarify whether the Hominids were hunting, scavenging or both. Already some bones appear to have fractures indicative of hominids smashing them for marrow extraction, as the rich fats and nutrients contained within would have been essential for survival in a cold climate.
The site will undoubtedly greatly aid our understanding of Neanderthal behaviour. As David Miles, chief Archaeologist for English Heritage, expressed it: "We may have discovered a butchery site, or, what would be even more exciting, first evidence in Britain of a Neanderthal hunting site, which would tell us much about their social abilities". Not only may we learn about the way in which Neanderthals behaved in order to obtain food, the discovery of mammoth tusks in a concentrated area may indicate that the Neanderthals used them to construct shelters or territorial markers. Therefore the site's finds may ultimately allow us to make suggestions about the symbolic behaviour of Neanderthals and allow them to be viewed as highly intelligent sentient beings, finally removing any old views depicting them as "primitive".
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