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6 June 2010
Neanderthals were living in Britain much earlier than thought

It had long been thought that ancient man had abandoned the shores of Britain during the period 200,000 to 65,000 BCE, but new excavations in Kent (England) shed some doubt on this. A combined team from Southampton University and Oxford Archaeology, funded by the UK's Highways Agency, have found worked flints whilst excavating a new motorway junction near Dartford.
     The sediment in which they were found has been dated at 110,000 BCE, at a time when the severe cold dropped the sea levels and the Neanderthals walked on a land bridge from what is now Northern France, into Kent, folowing the game which was migrating northward.
     The system of dating used was OSL (optically stimulated luminescence). This technique measures the amount of light emitted from a grain of sand or other crystalline material, to calculate when it was last exposed to sunlight. Dr Whittle, from Durham University, has doubts over how accurate OSL dating is, postulating that the technique is "in constant development". He also stated that "I suspect there is a possibility that OSL dating might not be giving us the true date". Dr Wenham-Smith, a team member from Southampton University, was more optimistic but believed that, exciting though the find was, more evidence was needed to corroborate the findings.
     Should the OSL dating be correct then Neanderthals returned to Britain much earlier (about 40,000 years) than previously thought. They may have been attracted by the sight of flint-rich chalk downs which would have been clearly visible from the other side of the Channel.

Sources: The BBC, The Telegraph, The Independent (1 June 2010)

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