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24 April 2005
Ancient jaw bone raises questions over early man

New research has revealed Britain's oldest fragment of modern human - a jaw bone unearthed in the Westcountry - is 6,000 years older than previously thought.  Carbon dating had indicated the piece of jaw bone, with only three teeth, originated around 31,000 years ago. But the specimen was recently deemed suspect, because it had been strengthened with paper glue some time around its excavation from Kents Cavern, Torquay, in 1927.
     The find was made by the Torquay Natural History Society, and identified by Sir Allen Keith, the top human anatomist of his day. But only in the 1980s was its significance recognised. Now, Dr Roger Jacobi of the British Museum and Dr Tom Higham from the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit have conducted new research. Their findings indicate the piece actually dates back between 37,000 and 40,000 years. The announcement coincides with an international conference on the History of Geological Speleology and Cave Finds held in Pengelly Hall in Torquay Museum this week.
     Barry Chandler, assistant curator at the museum, where the jaw bone is currently on display, said the new conclusions posed fresh questions. He said: "If the jaw is anatomically modern - from humans known as Cro-Magnons as Keith believed - then these people spread across Europe, reaching Britain far earlier than is currently thought. "If, however, Keith was wrong and the jaw is from the human species known as the Neanderthals we will have the first direct evidence of Neanderthals on mainland Britain. We hope to resolve this problem by extracting ancient DNA from one of the teeth."

Source: This is Devon (23 April 2005)

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