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21 October 2013
Jersey, home of the last Neanderthals?

A study on a site in the Channel island of Jersey - a British Crown dependency just off the coast of France -  revealed a significant piece of late Neanderthal history. Scientists working on an archaeological dig in St Brelade said teeth found at La Cotte suggest Jersey was one of the last places Neanderthals lived. The site, which has produced more Neanderthal stone tools than the rest of the British Isles put together, contains the only known late Neanderthal remains from North West Europe.
     Dr Matt Pope of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, who helped lead the research, said: "In terms of the volume of sediment, archaeological richness and depth of time, there is nothing else like it known in the British Isles." Dr Pope said the results showed that part of the sequence of sediments dates between 100,000 and 47,000 years old, indicating that Neanderthal teeth which were discovered at the site in 1910 were younger than previously thought, and "probably belonged to one of the last Neanderthals to live in the region".
     "The discovery that these deposits still exist and can be related to previously excavated deposits opens up a range of exciting possibilities," says Dr Martin Bates, University of Trinity St Davids, who is leading current fieldwork at the site. "We are hoping to be able to link our site with the broader Neanderthal landscapes through study of similarly aged deposits around the island and, through bathymetric survey, on the seabed," says Bates. "We were sure from the outset that the deposits held some archaeological potential, but these dates indicate we have uncovered something exceptional," explains Pope. "We have a sequence of deposits which span the last 120,000 years still preserved at the site. Crucially, this covers the period in which Neanderthal populations apparently went 'extinct'."
     The team dated sediments at the site using a technique called Optically Stimulated Luminesce, which measures the last time sand grains were exposed to sunlight. This was carried out at the Luminescence Dating Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at Oxford University.
     The wider project, supported also by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Jersey Government, will continue to investigate the site and material excavated from it over the past 110 years.

Edited from EurekAlert! (17 October 2013), BBC News (20 October 2013)

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