Thursday, July 06, 2006

VERY EARLY MAN IN BRITAIN

The oldest evidence for humans in North West Europe has recently been discovered in East Anglia at Happisburgh & Pakefield. For us in America, that's northeast of London, on the coast of Norfolk. The evidence, that is, stone hand axes, comes from the Cromer Forest Beds that consist of a dark layer containing fossilized animal and plant material found in many places along the Norfolk and part of the Suffolk coasts. They can only be seen at very low tides.

What is important about them is that they underlie the thick clay, gravel and sand deposits that form the cliffs in this part of the world and which were laid down by glaciations. So they are pre-glacial and the flint tools they contain must date before the Great Glaciation (the Anglian) that swept down almost to the line of the present River Thames around 450,000 years ago.

And what's been found? (The first was found by a local man, Mike Chambers, a keen-eyed collector of fossils who was walking his dog at Happisburg.) Since then, experts have been called in and found a total of 32 worked flints in situ. Most are in mint condition, including a handaxe thinning flake and several that have been retouched or show signs of utilization, proving that flint knapping and utilization had taken place on site.

The fauna include rhinoceros, box/bison, fallow deer, duck and an extinct frog. Cut marks on some of the bones show that these were contemporary with and had been preyed upon by the hominids who were responsible for the flint artifacts.

Detailed examination of the deposit suggests it can be dated to around 680,000 years ago. If confirmed, the Happisburgh evidence is the earliest occurrence of humans not only in Britain, but in the whole of North Europe with advanced handaxe technology.

Other sites with early Middle Pleistocene archaeology in Britain are known from Somerset and the Bytham River in the Midlands with dates about 500,000 years, including the famous Boxgrove site dated to about 450,000 years ago. Thus the new findings demonstrates the presence of early humans by at least 200,000 years earlier than previous finds.

In Southern Europe human fossil evidence from Atapuerca in Spain and Ceprano in Italy

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