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ebbsfleet Elephant butchery in l Lark ige

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PHoto above an aurochs skull in Nigel Larkin’s Natural History Conservation laboratory.

to live in a relatively narrow range of conditions. Pollen analysis provided to live in a relatively narrow range of conditions. Pollen analysis provided even more direct evidence for the range of plant-life growing in the immediate vicinity of the waterhole. This points to a forested environment with clearings and marshland beside a water-body so slow-flowing it was practically stagnant. As the site is far too old for radiocarbon dating to work, the team attempted to date it using such cutting-edge scientific techniques as Amino Acid Racemization (AAR) and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL). In the end, though, it was a good old-fashioned combination of the animal and plant species present that pointed conclusively to the Hoxnian Interglacial as the period when the elephant died.

ested environment with clearings and marshland beside a water-body so slow-flowing it was practically stagnant. As the site is far too old for radiocarbon dating to work, the team attempted to date it using such cutting-edge scientific techniques as Amino Acid Racemization (AAR) and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL). In the

So who were these mysterious hunters, who dared to take on a fully grown male elephant without even recourse to a handaxe? The short answer is that nobody truly knows which species of human ancestor lived in Britain at the

RIGHt sieving the deposits revealed the remains of numerous minute mammals, including these vole teeth (INset).

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current archaeology | www.archaeology.co.uk ith

: Francis Wenban-sm

PHoto time, because so few contemporary hominin fossil remains have been found. Perhaps the most likely candidate is Homo heidelbergensis, a close cousin of Homo erectus. H. heidelbergensis remains have been found at a handful of sites in Britain and Europe that date to around the same period as the Ebbsfleet elephant (see the box on the opposite page). The brain size of these hominins was only about 75% of our own, but they would have walked fully upright like us.

Swanscombe itself is one of only two places in the UK where fragments of earlier Palaeolithic hominin bones have been found. The famous ‘Swanscombe Man’ skull fragments discovered in the 1930s came from Barnfield Pit, just over 1km away. Dating to around 400,000 years ago, it is still disputed whether the fragments came from an H. heidelbergensis or a primitive Neanderthal. Awkwardly for its firmly entrenched popular name, it is certain that the hominin in question was female. H. heidelbergensis gradually evolved into Neanderthals, who eventually became extinct around 30,000 years ago, in the middle of the last cold stage, when modern humans successfully colonised the majority of the globe.

into Neanderthals, who eventually became extinct around 30,000 years ago, in the middle of the last cold stage, when modern humans successfully colonised the majority of the globe.

The elephant site adds to other recent discoveries from around the world that have radically

The elephant site adds to other recent discoveries from around the world that have radically changed perceptions of these hominins.

changed perceptions of these hominins. H.

heidelbergensis heidelbergensis is traditionally thought of as primitive in comparison with modern humans and developed Neanderthals, but recent finds from Germany and southern Africa now suggest that the species migrated out of Africa in possession of a sophisticated hunting kit and complex humans and developed Neanderthals, but recent finds from Germany and southern Africa now suggest that the species migrated out of Africa in possession of a sophisticated hunting kit and complex co-operative hunting strategies.

Astonishing recent finds include eight complete wooden spears from a 300,000-year-old wild-horse hunting camp at Schöningen in Germany. These well-preserved wooden artefacts exhibit a high level of craftsmanship. At Lehringen, another German site, a spear was found apparently embedded in a straight-tusked elephant’s ribcage. The Southfleet Road evidence is less explicit, but a wooden spearpoint has been found in the Thames Estuary at Clacton-on-Sea, indicating that early hominins with comparable capabilities were active in southern Britain around 400,000 years ago. Whichever hominins were active at Ebbsfleet, their prey – the extinct,

November 2013 |

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