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15 June 2010
Road work in England reveals Neanderthal artifacts

In 2007, repairs on the M25/A2 highway in Dartford, Kent (England) uncovered a flint hand tool and waste flake. Archaeologist Dr. Francis Wenban-Smith of Southampton University and his team at Oxford Archaeology have dated the artifacts to 110,000 years BP, 40,000 years earlier than Neanderthals were thought to have arrived in Britain.
     The dating technique is not universally accepted at this time. Dr. Mark White of Durham University, not connected with the study, says that the process, which measures the amount of radiation absorbed by a sample before it was buried, is still under development.
     Scientists theorize that the early immigrants may have been following the migration from France of food animals across the English Channel, which was dry at that time. Or, they may have been attracted by the flint-rich White Cliffs of Dover.
     The manager of Dartford Borough Museum, Chris Baker notes, "The road works in question have thrown up a number of discoveries all the way from Palaeolithic times, through the stone age, to the Romans, and up to World War II. This one is very exciting. If the flints are indeed 110,000 years old, that places them squarely in the abandonment period when it was believed humans had not yet returned to Britain from the continent."
     He hopes to retain the artifacts locally. "I do hope it may be possible to house the flints here in Dartford. It may be that they go to a national museum for further research, while we hold replicas. This has been the case with the 400,000 year old Swanscombe skull fragments, for example, whose originals are now housed at the Natural History Museum in London. Either way it looks likely to change our understanding and our exhibits about prehistoric England."
     Neanderthal remains were first discovered in the Neander Valley in Germany. It is believed that they lived in small hunter-gatherer bands of about 25 individuals. They are characterized by a large brain, short, stocky build and prominent brow ridges. They used fire and primitve stone tools. Neanderthals split from homo sapiens approximately 500,000 years ago, although some Neadnderthal genes remain in modern humans. Savant Paabo and his team from the Max Planck Institue for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) have found that 1%-4% of DNA from Europeans and Pacific Islanders comes from Neanderthals.

Source: yourcounty.co.uk (8 June 2010)

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