June 23, 2008

Team Uncovers Neanderthal Tools In England

A recent excavation in south England uncovered dozens of tools which archaeologists believe were once used by ancient Neanderthals.

Lead archaeologist Dr Matthew Pope said the tools shed light on the lifestyles and habitats of the ancient hunters in the region.

"The tools we've found at the site are technologically advanced and potentially older than tools in Britain belonging to our own species, Homo sapiens," said Pope, of Archaeology South East based at the UCL Institute of Archaeology.

"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. 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."

Funded by English Heritage, the team set out on the first modern, scientific investigation of the site since its original discovery in 1900. Some 2,300 perfectly preserved stone tools were removed from fissures at the start of the 20th Century, during the construction of a huge new house to be built at Beedings.

The tools were most likely used to hunt various animals, such as horses, mammoths and woolly rhinoceros.

The importance of the tools went unrecognized for many years, as they were considered to be fakes. But research conducted by Roger Jacobi of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project showed conclusively that the Beedings material was closely related to other tools from northern Europe dating back to between 35,000 and 42,000 years ago.

"Dr Jacobi's work showed the clear importance of the site," said Dr Pope.

"The exceptional collection of tools appears to represent the sophisticated hunting kit of Neanderthal populations which were only a few millennia from complete disappearance in the region. Unlike earlier, more typical Neanderthal tools these were made with long, straight blades - blades which were then turned into a variety of bone and hide processing implements, as well as lethal spear points.

"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. We also discovered older, more typical Neanderthal tools, deeper in the fissure. Clearly, Neanderthal hunters were drawn to the hill over a long period time, presumably for excellent views of the game-herds grazing on the plains below the ridge."

The new findings suggest that other sites with comparable fissures may contain new ancient clues as well.

Dr. Pope said his team intends to search other sites with similar systems of fissures across other parts of south-east England.

Barney Sloane, Head of Historic Environment Commissions at English Heritage, said: "The tools at Beedings could equally be the signature of pioneer populations of modern humans, or traces of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy the region."

"This study offers a rare chance to answer some crucial questions about just how technologically advanced Neanderthals were, and how they compare with our own species."


Image Caption: This photo shows a reconstruction of a Neanderthal tool maker. Credit Thomas Ihle (Wikipedia)


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