Home Of Last Neanderthals
October 17, 2013

Archaeologists Find Home Of The Last Neanderthals

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

In reassessing an archaeological site located on the British island of Jersey, a team of UK scientists has found preserved layers of geological deposits that were thought to have been lost through excavation decades ago, according to a new study in the Journal of Quaternary Science.

Using modern optical dating techniques, the scientists found that a large part of the site holds sediments dating back to the last Ice Age - essentially a record of 250,000 years of climate change and a wealth of archaeological evidence at a site known for producing more Neanderthal stone tools than the rest of the British Isles combined.

"In terms of the volume of sediment, archaeological richness and depth of time, there is nothing else like it known in the British Isles,” said study author Matt Pope of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London. “Given that we thought these deposits had been removed entirely by previous researchers, finding that so much still remains is as exciting as discovering a new site.”

To make their discovery, the team dated the sediments using a technique called Optically Stimulated Luminesce (OSL), which can determine the last time sand grains were exposed to sunlight. An analysis showed parts of the sediments date to between 100,000 and 47,000 years old, suggesting Neanderthal teeth found at the site in 1910 are younger than formerly thought and most likely belonged to one of the region’s last Neanderthals.

"The discovery that these deposits still exist and can be related to previously excavated deposits opens up a range of exciting possibilities," said lead researcher Martin Bates, an archaeologist from the University of Trinity St Davids.

The new findings also indicated that stone tools, animal bone and the Neanderthal remains from the site should be reviewed under the different context.

"Excavation in the future will provide us with the opportunity to subject the site to the wide range of approaches we use today in Palaeolithic archaeology and Quaternary science,” Bates said. “For example we are hoping to be able to link our site with the broader Neanderthal landscapes through study of similarly aged deposits around the island and, through bathymetric survey, on the seabed.”

"We were sure from the outset that the deposits held some archaeological potential, but these dates indicate we have uncovered something exceptional," Pope explained. "We have a sequence of deposits which span the last 120,000 years still preserved at the site. Crucially, this covers the period in which Neanderthal populations apparently went 'extinct'.

"We may be able to use this evidence to better understand when Neanderthal populations disappeared from the region and whether they ever shared the landscape with the species which ultimately replaced them, us," he concluded.

The new study also represents the scientific research at the site since the early 1980s. In the interim, the site has been managed and preserved by the Société Jerisaise, the English Channel island’s academic society that has been involved with the investigation of the site since its early days.

"For over a hundred years the Société has tried to maintain the interest of the wider academic world in La Cotte, having realized its international importance from the beginning,” said Neil Molyneux, president of the Société Jersiaise. “We are delighted, therefore, that such a prestigious team is now studying the site, and, in addition, the wider Paleolithic landscape of Jersey.”