Dozens of tools thought to have belonged to Neanderthals have been dug up at an archaeological site called Beedings in West Sussex, UK, as reported by Christine McGourty, BBC Science Correspondent.
Dr Matthew Pope, of University College London, said the discovery provides new insights into the life of a thriving community of hunters at the site.
The tools could have been used to hunt horses, mammoth and woolly rhinoceros. The archaeologists, funded by English Heritage, have been carrying out their investigations over the last few weeks. It is the first modern scientific investigation of the site since it was discovered in 1900.
"It's exciting to think that there's a real possibility these were left by some of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy northern Europe," said Dr Pope. "The impression they give is of a population in complete command of both landscape and natural raw materials with a flourishing technology - not a people on the edge of extinction."
When the site was first discovered at the start of the 20th Century, there were 2,300 stone tools found when the foundations were being dug for a huge new house to be built there. But for many years, the tools were considered to be fakes. All but a few hundred of them were thrown down a well and never seen again. The tools were only recently recognised to be of international importance, following research by Roger Jacobi of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project. He demonstrated last year that the Beedings material showed strong resemblances with other tools from northern Europe dating to between 35,000 and 42,000 years old. The latest finds now provides definitively that the original discovery was genuine, according to Dr Pope.
Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) first appear in the fossil record about 230,000 years ago and, at their peak, ranged across Europe and parts of western Asia. Our evolutionary cousins became extinct in most of Europe about 35,000 years ago, but small pockets survived much later than this in southern Iberia. As reported by Rebecca Morelle of the BBC, 'the cause of these ancient humans' demise is hotly debated and a variety of theories have been put forward.'
Competition with modern humans (Homo sapiens) - who arrived on the European continent about 40,000 years ago - as well as climate change, have long been discussed as culprits for the Neanderthals' extinction across much of their former range 35,000 years ago. But pockets of these ancient humans appear to have survived in southern Iberia until much more recently than they did elsewhere - perhaps until 24,000 years ago.
The Beedings excavation:
"There were some questions about the validity of the earlier find, but our excavations have proved beyond doubt that the material discovered here was genuine and originated from fissures within the local sandstone." He said Neanderthal hunters were drawn to the hill over a long period of time, presumably for excellent views of the game herds grazing on the surrounding plains.
Reports from the BBC.
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