An archaeological excavation at a site near Pulborough, West Sussex, has thrown remarkable new light on the life of northern Europe's last Neanderthals. It provides a snapshot of a thriving, developing population rather than communities on the verge of extinction.
"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," says Dr Matthew 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."
The team, led by Dr Pope and funded by English Heritage, is undertaking the first modern, scientific investigation of the site since its original discovery in 1900. During the construction of a monumental house known as 'Beedings' some 2,300 perfectly preserved stone tools were removed from fissures encountered in the foundation trenches.
Only recently were the tools recognised for their importance. Research by Roger Jacobi of the Leverhulme-funded Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) Project showed conclusively that the Beedings material has strong affinities with other tools from northern Europe dating back to between 35,000 and 42,000 years ago. The collection of tools from Beedings is more diverse and extensive than any other found in the region and therefore offers the best insight into the technologically advanced cultures which occupied Northern Europe before the accepted appearance of our own species.
"Dr Jacobi's work showed the clear importance of the site," says Dr Pope. "The exceptional collection of tools appears to represent the sophisticated hunting kit of Neanderthal populations
|Contact: Dave Weston|
University College London