|29 November 2014
Archaeologists race against time to explore Neanderthal site
University of Southampton archaeologists are working to save important Palaeolithic remains at a rare Neanderthal site, before they are lost to the forces of nature.
The Baker's Hole site, at Ebbsfleet in Kent, is Britain's foremost location for evidence dating to the time when Britain was being colonised by early Neanderthals, some 250,000 years ago, but researchers are racing to excavate and examine the surviving remains, as erosion, animal burrows and plant roots threaten to damage the site.
Sediment samples were taken to be searched for paleo-environmental remains, such as snail shells and the bones of small mammals, like voles. "These biological remains can tell us a lot of about the environment early Neanderthals lived in," says Dr Francis Wenban-Smith. of the University of Southampton. "We can tell if the climate was warm or cold, whether the area was wooded or marshland, and other factors that help us to see the context in which they lived. They can also help date the site accurately."
Stone tools, mammoth teeth and other fossils such as giant deer, bear and lion, have previously been found at Baker's Hole, but Dr Wenban-Smith says his team has "one to two years" before burrowing animals, erosion and plant roots irreparably damage the soil. Sites from this period are rarer than older ones, which date back 400,000 years. "One of the key points to bear in mind in the Ebbsfleet Valley is that it is not a single Palaeolithic site, but an area filled with a complex suite of Pleistocene deposits that have produced different Palaeolithic evidence at various different locations, investigated at different times from the 1880s to the present day."
Baker's Hole is also unusual in being one of the very few non-cave Palaeolithic sites on the national list of protected ancient monuments, and a Site of Special Scientific Interest on geological grounds.
Edited from PhysOrg (19 November 2014), Culture24 (20 November 2014)
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