English Heritage Press Release, 25th June 2002
EXTRAORDINARY ICE AGE NEANDERTHAL FINDS AT NORFOLK QUARRY
Unique Site of 50,000 Year Old Mammoths and Tools Reveals Secrets of a
Little Known Era
An English Heritage supported excavation at a quarry in Norfolk has revealed 50,000 year old flint tools and mammoth remains from what could prove to be the best-preserved open-air Neanderthal butchery site ever discovered in Britain. The finds are set to provide crucial and extremely rare information about a little understood period of mankind's history during the last Ice Age.
Using money for the first time from the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF), the twelve week rescue excavation by Norfolk Archaeology Unit at the May Gurney quarry in Norfolk is nearing completion. The £29.5 million ALSF fund administered by English Heritage, English Nature and the Countryside Agency was recently set up to run over two years for projects such as this in areas affected by aggregate extraction.
The excavation is the most complete ever to be undertaken using modern
archaeological methods on such a site from the Middle Palaeolithic era and holds out the enticing prospect of answering some of the puzzles surrounding our enigmatic and often derided cousins, Homo neanderthalensis, and their harsh environment on the edge of the habitable world.
Eight skilfully-worked handaxes, plus enormous teeth, two meter long tusks and parts of the skeletons from three, or possibly four, mammoths, teeth from a woolly rhino and a raindeer antler are among the Ice Age remains which first came to light during gravel extraction at the quarry earlier this year. The site is thought to have once been a series of ponds used as a watering place by both Neanderthals and animals.
David Miles, Chief Archaeologist at English Heritage, said: "It is extremely rare to find any evidence of Neanderthals and even rarer to find it in association with mammoth remains. We may have discovered a butchery site or, what would be even more exciting, first evidence in Britain of a Neanderthal hunting site which would tell us much about their organisational and social abilities. For the first time we may also be able to date the presence of Middle Palaeolithic hominids conclusively in Britain. It is a discovery of such international importance that English Heritage has awarded it our first grant from the ALSF. "
More than 129 artefacts of worked flint, many of them pieces knocked from a flint core during tool-making, have been discovered, some in close proximity to the animal remains and showing signs that they have been used to cut or scrape something. The flints will now undergo detailed microwear analysis of the residues left on their edges to determine what they were used for. Examination of organic material such as molluscs, insects and plant remains, taken from the site has also revealed an extraordinary detailed picture of the environment.
Dr Bill Boismier, Archaeology Manager of the Norfolk Archaeology Unit, and leader of the excavation team, regards it as the most important dig he has ever worked on, said: "The presence of carcass beetles lend weight to the theory that the mammoths, one of which was a juvenile, died naturally and that afterwards the carcasses were partially eaten by hyenas and other carnivores such as lions. The Neanderthals may have then scavenged any meat and hide left on the carcasses. However, given the size of a mammoth and the quantity of meat on it, it is equally possible that one or more of the mammoths at the site could have been killed and butchered by Neanderthals without leaving cutmarks on the bones. We have also found a spiral fracture on what is possibly a deer bone, opened by a Neanderthal to extract the marrow."
Dr Mark White, a Palaeolithic archaeologist from Durham University who is a member of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project (AHOB), has examined the artefacts. He said: "A number of the finely fashioned flint handaxes appear to be of an elongated D shaped type called bout coupJ which was unique to Britain between 59 and 40,000 years ago. Their association with the animal remains is very suggestive and it is valid to speculate that the Neanderthals, had gone to this watering place because they knew they would find prey to kill."
Ian Findlater, Managing Director of May Gurney who operates the quarry,
said: "We are delighted with the creative co-operation of all parties -
English Heritage, Norfolk Archaeology Unit, Forest Enterprise and May Gurney - which will ensure these remarkable finds are recorded and conserved for the future. As soon as parts of the mammoth tusk appeared we knew it was something special and immediately contacted the Norfolk Archaeology Unit. We look forward to the results of the further analysis and hopefully the eventual display of these finds to the public. It is also encouraging to see the Aggregate Levy being used for constructive, educational and environmentally worthwhile projects".
Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, is Director of
AHOB, whose members are collaborating on the study of the finds. He said: "All artefacts and animal remains have been removed from the site, but the scientific investigations will continue for some time. As well as the tools, the animal remains will be subjected to detailed analysis and more environmental information will be extracted from the soil samples to build up a picture in unparalleled detail of Ice Age Norfolk and its Neanderthal inhabitants. We may be in for even more sensational revelations yet."
Scientists have still to pinpoint the exact date of the site. It is likely to date from sometime between 40 and 50/60,000 years ago but sophisticated tests will be employed for greater accuracy. These involve using a radiocarbon dating technique called Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (ordinary radiocarbon dating techniques only work up to about 40,000 years ago) and Optically-Stimulated Luminescence which can date minerals which have been exposed to light. This technique was used to date the White Horse at Uffington.
Images, including a reconstruction drawing of the site 50,000 years ago, are available free to the press on www.papicselect.com Go to Press/English Heritage archaeology/mammoth.
1. The Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) was announced by DEFRA Minister The Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP in April this year to provide a wide range of benefits to areas affected by aggregates extraction. English Heritage, The Countryside Agency and English Nature, in consultation with local organisations and the aggregates industry, will distribute £16 million from the fund over the coming year. Another £13.5 million will be available in 2003/4. English Heritage will concentrate on historic environments, including historic buildings, archaeological sites and landscapes.
For details about applying for a grant from ALSF – see
2. The first discoveries of Neanderthal remains in the 19th century were variously identified as bear bones, remote ancestors of the human race or even freaks of nature. There was considerable reluctance to accord these people much intelligence, or even the power of speech. They are still enigmatic as they have left so few unequivocal traces to indicate that they had any art or religious belief. It does seem probable, however, that they buried their dead, looked after injured individuals and had some sort of rudimentary shelters. Their flint tools were sophisticated and there is evidence, mostly from the continent, that they hunted (though part of a wooden spear tip has been found in Britain- this is earlier, however).
Current belief is that they had some form of speech, though less advanced than our own. From the signs of stress on their skeletons it can be concluded they had a hard life eking out an existence in severe conditions. It may be that their appearance, squat and well-muscled, was the result of adaptation to the extreme cold.
Neanderthals disappear from the archaeological record about 30,000 years ago at the time when Homo sapiens colonised Europe probably spreading there from Africa, via the Middle East. The precise relationship between Neanderthals and modern humans has been unclear until recently although advances in DNA science has made it more likely that Neanderthals represented an evolutionary dead end and that modern humans developed not from them but from an earlier ancestor common to both. We do not know why Neanderthals died out or whether our own precursors were responsible for their demise. They may have been less well equipped for survival and lost out to Homo sapiens in the competition for territory and resources.
3. The last glaciation, known in Britain as the Devensian Cold Stage, began about 110,000 years ago and lasted until about 12,000 years ago. It was not uniformly cold, with periods of severe icing alternating with periods of warmer weather, called interstadials. The last big spread of ice began about 70,000 years ago but milder, fluctuating climates also occurred after about 60,000 years ago. This was the period when the classic Neanderthal race flourished, living off the rich wildlife of the steppe. They would have colonised the south of England over the dry land which then linked Britain to the Continent. The ice later descended again and reached its maximum here about 20,000 years ago.
4. May Gurney, a national civil engineering contractor of 75 years, is based in Norfolk. In addition to providing full integrated services within the civil engineering, rail and construction industry's they also operate a number of quarries in East Anglia under the Ayton Aggregate banner, employing in excess of 1500 people across the UK. Another May Gurney operated quarry revealed the first Iron Age Settlement dating back to the Neolithic Period to be uncovered since the 1930's. The site featured in a Channel 4 documentary, presented by Time Team's Tony Robinson, investigating the facts behind the fiction of famous historical figures, Boudicca being the focal point of investigation.
The company has undergone significant growth in the recent past. A
management buy-out in December 2001 will safeguard the strong cultural
values of the company and maintain its strong quality brand. May Gurney
frequently demonstrate their commitment to the environment and recently
delayed the construction of a £34m dual carriageway for five weeks when
great crested newts were discovered in the path of the new road. site.
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Woolly mammoth butchery site unearthed
By David Sapsted
A Neanderthal "butchery site" complete with the bones of tall woolly mammoths, molars bigger than a man's head and 50,000-year-old flint tools was unveiled by archaeologists yesterday.
Over the past three months, the remains of four of the mammoths, a woolly rhino, a reindeer and spotted hyena have been uncovered at the site in south Norfolk.
Archaeologists believe the find will be of crucial importance in understanding the lives of our distant forebears.
David Miles, chief archaeologist with English Heritage, which has funded the excavation, said:"It is extremely rare to find any evidence of Neanderthals and even rarer to find it in association with mammoth remains".
He said: "We may have discovered a butchery site or - what could be even more exciting - the first evidence in Britain of a Neanderthal hunting site, which would tell us much about their organisation and social abilities."
He said: "The usual Neanderthal remains found are the odd axe head which is found by itself. Here there is also evidence of the tools being used for butchery. It is a site of not only national importance, but also international importance."
The first evidence of the site, the exact location of which is being kept secret, was uncovered by Eric Perfect, 58, a digger driver who spotted what he thought was a lump of wood as he extracted sand and gravel from the quarry.
When he inspected it, he realised that what he had uncovered was probably an old tusk. Norfolk County Council's archaeology unit was called in and, within days, English Heritage had awarded a £100,000 grant for the dig.
A team of 20 archaeologists has so far discovered the remains of two adult mammoths - one of them an extremely large male - and two juveniles. The hundreds of bone fragments include seven pieces of tusk measuring up to two metres long, eight mammoth teeth weighing up to 8lbs each as well as pieces of skull and vertebrae.
Scattered among the remains, they have found flint hand axes, probably used by cavemen at the end of the Ice Age to strip meat from the animals.
Archaeologists are now trying to work out whether the Neanderthals hunted and killed the mammoths, which grew to about 10ft tall and weighed in at four tons, or simply scavenged the meat from their bodies after they had died.
Bill Boismier, the manager of the Norfolk archaeology unit who is leading the dig, said: "It would have been very cold when these creatures were around - probably a maximum of 55F (13C) in the summer and well below freezing in the winter.
He said:"It would not have been a very comfortable place and there could well have been a layer of permafrost about a metre beneath the ground, but the Neanderthals were very hardy."
He said: "We suspect that animals could have come here to drink water. We know a lot of mammals used to be around because we have found the remains of lots of dung beetles, which would have fed off their dung."
He said: "The Neanderthals were hunters and they could have chosen to attack the mammoths at this site. It is also possible that they could have died here naturally after getting stuck in the mud."
Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, who is director of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain Project, said: "Neanderthals were skilful hunters and scavengers and may have been living in shelters nearby. Mammoths would have been rather fierce and they would have to have been very brave to hunt them with their simple spears.
He said: "It is more likely that they would have preferred to go after a reindeer or horse so perhaps it is more likely that these mammoths died in the mud or were killed by something else."
But is it art?
A cave in South Africa may rewrite human history
Jun 27th 2002 | JOHANNESBURG
From The Economist print edition
FOR the whole of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th centuries, archaeologists in the West denied that mankind had originated in Africa. The first humans, surely, must have been Europeans. That idea was disproved by Raymond Dart in the 1920s. He discovered fossil human bones in South Africa. These skeletons, though, were earlier species than Homo sapiens. Then, in the 1980s, genetic work by Allan Wilson showed that modern man, too, had an African genesis. But at least the Eurocentrics had cave paintings to comfort them. The oldest of these symbols of humanity's cultural pretensions were European. Therefore culture was invented in Europe. So there!
Chris Henshilwood, a South African archaeologist, begs to differ. He is challenging the theory that artistic culture first developed in Europe about 35,000 years ago, after people had migrated out of Africa. He has dug up evidence which, he claims, shows that such behaviour evolved over 70,000 years ago—and in Africa.
This evidence comes from a seaside cave called Blombos, two hours drive from Cape Town. Mr Henshilwood and his team have spent years scraping an impressive collection of artefacts out of this cave. In particular, Blombos was full of bits of ochre, a mineral that can be crushed and used to paint the skin for decoration, and for protection from the sun.
That is not unusual; many African caves contain bits of ochre. But two stones found in recent years have patterns engraved on them. This, according to Mr Henshilwood, means they are “intentional images and can be considered a complex geometric motif”. Tests on the sand they were buried in, using two different dating techniques (thermoluminescence and oxygen-isotope analysis), suggest they are between 70,000 and 80,000 years old. If that is right, they constitute the world's oldest works of art. In February, Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president, opened parliament with the stones at his side, and said he was delighted to have proof that Africa gave birth to modern man.
One African cave does not, of course, compare with the Neolithic cultural riches dug up across Western Europe. But there are, according to Mr Henshilwood, many more caves to explore and excavate near Blombos, so more art may turn up. Given that things can move between strata due to the activities of burrowing animals, a few more examples would certainly add to confidence that he is right about the date. On the other hand, according to Mr Henshilwood, “No one has challenged our methods yet.” Europe's pretensions may be pricked again, as the first artists turn out to have been African.
Roman Bath House at Chester
REMAINS of a Roman bath house have been discovered beneath Chester
amphitheatre in one of the biggest breakthroughs during excavations of the
The discovery has shattered the theory that the site housed an earlier
amphitheatre before the existing structure was built 2,000 years ago.
A team of archaeologists made the astonishing find when excavations uncovered two giant sandstone foundation walls and evidence of a drainage system.
Keith Matthews, senior archaeologist with Chester City Council, last night said: "It is certainly an early Roman building and all the evidence points to it being a bath house.
"It is a large building with drains, located right outside the Deva Fortress, where you would not expect to find a private house or any other substantial buildings.
"There is also an early aqueduct running through Grosvenor Park which would have supplied the water.
"Its location suggests it was probably an amenity for the troops of the
fortress. This is an exciting breakthrough in the excavation of the
Mr Matthews said the building would have stood for less than 25 years before it was demolished and the amphitheatre built in its place.
"We know the Romans arrived in Chester about 74AD and the amphitheatre was on the site by 100AD," he said.
"We had believed the Romans built a smaller, temporary amphitheatre on the site as soon as they settled, but we can discount that theory now.
"The Romans were very quick to construct buildings but why they built over the bath house only 20 years after it was constructed, we cannot know."
The discovery has come halfway through the annual community excavation of the site where archaeologists are working alongside students, volunteers from the Chester Archaeological Society and residents.
It is not expected much more will be excavated before the project ends on July 12 but the group hopes to return next year.
Past excavations have unearthed the remains of two other Roman baths in
Bridge Street and Lower Watergate Street. It is not clear whether the new find will affect proposals to transform the amphitheatre site into a major tourist attraction.
Chester City Council has commissioned consultants Past Forward to draw up a range of options, the most ambitious being a £2.8m visitor centre...
manchester business technology
DNA detectives on ancient mystery case
A HUSBAND and wife team are solving ancient mysteries by exposing DNA secrets with the type of forensic techniques normally used to snare criminals.
Professor Terry Brown is discovering the origins of agriculture, while his wife, archaeologist Keri Brown, is about to uncover the powerbrokers of Greece during the Bronze Age.
Their team, from UMIST’s Biomolecular Sciences Department, has also appeared on BBC TV’s Meet the Ancestors, showing how malaria could be one reason for the fall of the Roman Empire.
And team member Dr Robert Sallares is now investigating the rise of malaria in medieval London.
Colleague, Abi Bouwman, is examining the spread of syphilis in 16th Century Europe and Asia, to discover if the disease really did come from the New World.
Keri said: "It is fascinating work and it generates a lot of interest. The viewing figures for television programmes such as Time Team and Meet the Ancestors are huge. Students are looking for careers in forensics, to find out about the past and where we come from.”
Keri and Terry have been working with archaeological DNA for a decade, since it was first extracted from ancient bones. Their work was made possible by the Nobel Prize-winning invention of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) by Kary Mullis in the 1980s.
The method allows them to target sections of DNA from cleaned and powdered bones or wheat seeds, then produce copies from which to glean information.
Keri has collaborated with a number of archaeologists, including a team reconstructing the faces of the people of the Shaft Graves at Mycenae, in Greece.
Having taken pieces of bone from lower jaws found in the Shaft Graves, under the watchful eye of curators from the National Museum in Athens, she retrieved nine samples - a better result than expected as DNA degrades over the years.
These will show whether the skeletons are from the same family or an assorted band of people - who were rich and powerful enough to be buried with 15 kilos of gold artefacts - and thus how society was ordered in Bronze Age Greece.
The team has also collaborated with archaeologists at a site near Rome, where it appears that a whole community was killed by malaria 2,000 years ago.
Indian archaeologists find British shipwreck
Archaeologists in India have discovered the wreck of a 200-year-old British ship.
The Princess Royal is thought to have disappeared without trace in the 18th century while on its way to England from the Orient.
The ship with a consignment of chinaware was found resting on a coral reef off Bangaram atoll, 459 km off Cochin in the Lakshadweep islands.
It is believed a storm drove the ship onto the coral reefs, tearing its hull.
The Archaeological Survey of India has described the shipwreck as "a stunning find".
The Sunday Express reports divers have found debris strewn over a large area at a depth ranging from nine to 36 metres.
Decorated jars, bowls, dishes, shards of Ming pottery, blue and white chinaware have been found along with a variety of objects made of copper, iron, wood, glass, terracotta and stone.
A huge iron anchor, four cannons and ropes have been found remarkably well preserved. A bell with the name of the ship inscribed on it has since been moved to a museum.
Head of the ASI's underwater archaeology wing, Alok Tripathi, has ruled out plans to bring the entire ship to the surface.
He said: "There are no plans to lift the wreck totally. We are going to complete a systematic investigation of the ship and preserve it the way it has been found.''
Story filed: 12:41 Sunday 23rd June 2002
Noah's Ark replica to be built on top of Mount Ararat
A replica of Noah's Ark is to be built on top of Mount Ararat in Turkey to attract tourists.
It will house a museum, restaurants, a conference hall and shops to attract tourists back to a region that for years suffered the ravages of war.
The 5,000-metre-high Mount Ararat stands on the border between Turkey and Armenia.
Tourism Minister Mustafa Tasar told Turkish newspaper Milliyet a five-mile-long cable car run will take visitors from the foot of the mountain to the summit.
Mount Ararat has attracted considerable attention from archaeologists in the last decade who have been searching for remnants of the "real" Noah's Ark.
But so far they have found no clues that Noah and his animals really did land on the mountain.
Authorities in the region have been endeavouring to attract tourists back to the area since the end of the war between the Workers Party of Kurdistan (PKK) and the Turkish Army.
Story filed: 10:53 Tuesday 25th June 2002
Time Team Discoveries in Derbyshire
Posted on Tuesday, 25 June 2002 by aburnham
Submitted by Andy B:
Archaeologists from TV show Time Team have unearthed prehistoric human remains and bones from extinct species while filming in Derbyshire.
The Channel 4 programme filmed a dig near Carsington Water after receiving help from Derbyshire County Council archaeologists.
The show's producers contacted the council three weeks ago for advice on suitable sites for their latest series.
Council archaeologist Dave Barrett suggested Carsington Pasture, near Wirksworth, which contains a cave and a barrow - the name for a burial mound.
Prehistoric bones had been found in the cave four years ago, while the Pegasus Caving Club was exploring the chamber.
The burial mound was discovered by an amateur archaeologist 20 years ago but no records had been made of the dig.
Nobody had carried out a full dig at either site until Time Team got involved.
County council archaeologists provided Time Team with background documents on the location of the cave and barrow.
They also handed over information about what had been recovered from these locations and other prehistoric sites in the area.
The Time Team archaeologists found prehistoric human remains and animal bones, including some from species that are now extinct.
A prehistoric cremation burial was also discovered in the barrow, with remains buried in a large pottery urn.
The remains, which are believed to be from the Bronze Age and to date from about 2000 BC, have been sent away for analysis and accurate dating.
Councillor Walter Burrows, cabinet member for environment and highways, said that the Time Team and the council's archaeologists were pleased with the finds recovered from the site.
He said: "The finds from the cave are particularly interesting because, when other caves in the county were first excavated, we did not have the sophisticated dating techniques that are available today."
The council plans to seek scheduled ancient monument status from English Heritage for the burial mound and is working with Pegasus Caving Club to find ways to protect the site.
The Time Team programme, which is expected to be broadcast in February next year, was filmed over three days.
It will be fronted by regular presenter by Tony Robinson, also known for his role as Baldrick in the Blackadder TV comedy series.
Mr Burrows said: "I am sure that Derbyshire residents will be interested to see how this archaeological dig was carried out on their doorsteps and the remains that were unearthed from the site.
"We hope analysis of the Time Team finds will shed new light on the people who were buried so long ago in these two fascinating Derbyshire sites."
National Trust acquires a fort at knock-down price
Maev Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent
Wednesday June 26, 2002
The National Trust yesterday acquired a fine Victorian fort for the bargain sum of £1 when it formally took over Brean Down, north of Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset.
The fort was completed in 1871, one of the chain of "Palmerston forts" built under prime minister Lord Palmerston, at enormous expense, to defend the English coast from the possibility of a French invasion.
Brean Down did suffer a spectacular assault in 1900, when an apparently suicidal gunner fired his carbine into a magazine, which blew up, causing such severe damage that the fort was decommissioned. Like many of the other forts, it was adapted for 20th century artillery in the first and second world wars, and has also been used for weapons trials - and as a tea room.
The site is a scheduled ancient monument, and also a site of special scientific interest, because of the unusual fauna and flora of its limestone peninsula overlooking the Bristol Channel. It has been owned by Sedgemoor district council since 1974 and has been restored, with a £430,000 heritage lottery grant, before being handed over to the NT.
Its coastal site now becomes part of the Enterprise Neptune project, which has acquired over 413 miles of UK coastline.