Thursday, July 8, 2010

People in Britain 800,000 Years Ago: Pollen, Mammoth Bones, and Tools

"Dig Discovers Ancient Britons Were Earliest North Europeans"
Science Daily (July 7, 2010)

"A University College London archaeologist is part of a team who have unearthed the earliest evidence of human occupation in Britain.

"Simon Parfitt was part of a team of archaeologists, palaeontologists and earth scientists from the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, UCL, and Queen Mary, University of London, who unearthed the new evidence at an archaeological dig in East Anglia.

"Their findings demonstrate that ancient humans occupied Britain over 800,000 years ago, marking the first known settlement in northern Europe -- far earlier than previously thought...."

This dig was at Happisburgh, Norfolk: and is special in several ways.

For the moment, it's the earliest evidence of people in Britain.

The 70 flint tools and flakes found give researchers something to work with, as they try to figure out who lived there - and how they managed to do so.

Since the climate in what's now Norfolk was boreal - a bit past 'chilly' - the old assumption that people didn't live in an area until the climate was nice and warm has to be dropped.

And this time, we don't just have a few dozen tools and other bits and pieces left by human beings.

"...'The site is exceptional because of the unprecedented preservation of the original materials, from pollen grains to chunks of wood, and mammoth bones to voles and mice. We've even found remains of beetles and plants, which are missing from other sites. What we have in Happisburgh is a complete buried landscape.'..."

What I didn't find in the Science Daily article was just what sort of humans left those 70-odd bits of technology. 800,000 years ago, it's just about a sure thing that they weren't exactly 'British.'

Eight tenths of a million years back, the folks who lived in Happisburgh were most likely what we call Homo Erectus. I'll grant that it'd take more than a haircut and new clothes to make them blend into a crowd today - but they were living in houses that had distinct kitchen areas about 800,000 years back, so I don't think they were all that different. (December 21, 2009)

(from the BioAnthropology Section of Minnesota State University, used w/o permission)

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