NEANDERTHALS IN BRITAIN C. 100,000 YA -SURPRISE!
Neanderthal man was living in Britain at the start of the last ice age - 40,000 years earlier than previously thought, archaeologists have reported.
Tests on sediment burying two ancient flint hand tools used to cut meat showed they date from around 100,000 years ago - proving Neanderthals were living in Britain at this time. Until now, scientists have believed that the country was uninhabited during this period.
The tools were discovered at the junction of the M25/A2 road junction at Dartford, Kent. We know that Neanderthals inhabited Northern France at this time, but this new evidence suggests that as soon as sea levels dropped, and a 'land bridge' appeared across the English Channel, they made the journey by foot to Kent.
Early pre-Neanderthals inhabited Britain before the last ice age, but were forced south by the severe cold about 200,000 years ago.
The new discovery, commissioned by Oxford Archaeology, showed they returned to Britain much earlier than 60,000 years ago, as previous evidence suggested.
Oxford Archaeology Project Manager David Score said: 'The fieldwork uncovered a significant amount of activity at the Dartford site in the Bronze Age and Roman periods, but it is deeper trenches excavated through much older sediments which have yielded the most interesting results - shedding light on a long period when there was assumed to have been an absence of early man from Britain.'
One theory is that Neanderthals were attracted back to Kent by the flint-rich chalk downs which were visible from France. These supported herds of mammoth, rhino, horse and deer - an important source of food in sub-arctic conditions back then.
'These are people who had no real shelter - no houses, not even caves - so we can only speculate that by the time they returned, they had developed physiologically to cope with the cold, as well as developing behavioral strategies such as planning winter stores and making good use of fire,' said Dr Wenban-Smith.
Dr Wenban-Smith explained more evidence was needed to date their presence more accurately, to show how many were living in Kent at this time, how far they roamed into Britain and how long they stayed.