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13 December 2013
How prehistoric people selected the best places to live

Stone Age Brits were masters at choosing the perfect 'desirable residence', according to new research carried out by archaeologists at the University of Southampton, and Queen's University, Belfast. Nutritional and security considerations appear to have been the main criteria.
     A survey of 25 major British and north-west French sites dating from 500,000 to 200,000 years ago has revealed that members of the long-extinct species Homo heidelbergensis predominantly chose to live on islands in the flood plains of major rivers. They avoided forests and hills, the upper and middle reaches of river systems,¬†and their estuaries. It is the first ever detailed interdisciplinary investigation into early humanity's home location preferences.
     "What has amazed us is the degree to which they appear to have deliberately and consistently sought out the same type of ideal location for establishing their major camps.", said the research project's co-director, archaeologist and geographer Professor Tony Brown of the University of Southampton.
     The reasons for choosing flood plain areas and avoiding other locations were complex - but help to explain why Homo heidelbergensis was so successful for so long. Flood plains provided raw material for making tools and lighting fires, shallow running water, plentiful game, and vast quantities of water plants with nutritional edible roots. To avoid predators such as lion and hyaena, Homo heidelbergensis favoured only the islands formed by a river's intersecting channels.
     During the 300,000 year period of Homo heidelbergensis' dominance in Europe, they had to retreat south on many occasions when cold periods set in. In total, they therefore probably lived in Britain and north-west France for only 10 to 15% of that period, and there were probably only a few hundred or at most a few thousand individuals at any one time. Skeletal remains of fewer than ten have ever been found there, and only these 25 major occupation sites are known in the area. Yet, despite their tiny numbers they succeeded in surviving for at least 3000 centuries and probably contributed to our modern human gene pool.

Edited from The Independent (10 December 2013)

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