Place forgotten for more than 90 years was home to Stone Age humans, study says

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Hand axes unearthed from a riverbed in the county of Kent in southeastern England have revealed one of the earliest known Stone Age communities in northern Europe.

While the stone tools were discovered in the 1920s and kept in the British Museum, a new study has accurately dated them for the first time using modern techniques – confirming that early humans lived in southern Britain between 560,000 and 620,000 years ago. back.

Researchers used infrared radiofluorescence (IR-RF) dating, a technique that determines the point at which certain mineral grains in rock and sand were last exposed to sunlight, thereby establishing when items were buried.

“The diversity of tools is fantastic. In the 1920s, the site produced some of the first hand axes ever discovered in Britain. Now, for the first time, we have found rare evidence of scraping and drilling tools at this very early age,” said Alastair Key, assistant professor of Paleolithic archeology at the University of Cambridge, who directed the excavation of the site, in a press release.

At the time these tools were used, Great Britain was not an island but part of the European continent. This allowed residents of the area – who would have lived as hunter-gatherers – to move across a landscape much larger than the current coast of Kent, which is close to the Fordwich archaeological site where the tools were found, near Canterbury.

The tools would have been used by an ancestor of Neanderthals, known as Homo heidelbergensis, who ate a wide variety of plants and animals. Most of the 330 tools unearthed so far would have been used to cut up animal carcasses.

However, scraping and punching artifacts that were discovered during recent excavations at the site may have been used to handle animal skins, possibly for clothing or shelter.

This suggests that the community was not just a pioneering group surviving on the edges of Europe, but one that thrived in the area, according to research published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Researchers believe that European populations of Homo heidelbergensis evolved into Neanderthals, a group of early humans that lived for 350,000 years before disappearing about 40,000 years ago. A separate population of Homo heidelbergensis in Africa is believed to have evolved into Homo sapiens.

The first humans are known to have been present in Britain as far back as 840,000 – and potentially 950,000 – years ago, but these early visits were quick. A collection of footprints at Happisburgh in Norfolk currently represents the oldest evidence of hominids occupying Britain.

Cold glacial periods repeatedly drove populations out of northern Europe, and until now, there was only limited evidence of humans inhabiting Britain during the warm period between 560,000 and 620,000 years before the present, the study noted.

The Kent site has been “forgotten for over 90 years,” according to the study.

“There is a lot to discover about these populations. In particular, we hope in future excavations to find skeletal remains of the individuals who produced these stone tools, as they are very rare in Britain,” said Matthew Skinner, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Kent who helped lead the excavation.

Source: CNN Brasil

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