600,000-Year-Old Discovery Reveals Britain's Oldest Inhabitants

History

| LAST UPDATE 06/27/2022

By Stanley Wickens
Britain ancient human artifacts
picture alliance / Contributor via Getty Images

Researchers never fail to fascinate us with the discoveries they make about the history of human life on Earth. Recent findings from one archaeological site in Britain have proven it once again...

The site, located just outside of Canterbury, apparently hasn't been paid enough attention by researchers over the decades. In the 1920s, several human-made artifacts were taken from the market town of Fordwich, Kent, but were never properly dated until recently. Scientists used modern radiometric techniques to try to estimate the age of a collection of more than 330 hand axes and 251 flakes, scrapers, and cores. And thanks to all of their hard work, we now know that these artifacts taken from the area date were probably designed between 560,000 - 620,000 years ago!

Homo heidelbergensis ancient discovery
picture alliance / Contributor via Getty Images
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After studying the style of the artifacts, researchers concluded that the artifacts were fashioned by a subspecies of humans called Homo heidelbergensis. It's possible, experts now say, that they were the earliest humans to settle in Briton 600,000 years ago, compared to Neanderthals around 400,000 years ago and our current species a mere 40,000 years back. And thanks to the objects Homo heidelbergensis left behind, experts are able to better understand this prehistoric species' lifestyle and behavior. They were known to have been skilled hunters, using a variety of different tools to chase down their food. "The range of stone tools, not only from the original finds but also from our new smaller excavations, suggest that hominins living in what was to become Britain were thriving and not just surviving," noted Palaeolithic archaeologist Tomos Proffitt from the Max Planck Institute.

While these artifacts, which were discovered about a century ago, aren't the oldest evidence of human presence in Britain, they provide lots of information about life in that era. During H. heidelbergensis' time, Britain was still attached to the European mainland, making it easier for the species to travel to other nearby countries on the continent. And although several signs of prehistoric human activity have been found throughout Europe, the findings in Fordwich remain among the oldest. "The diversity of tools is fantastic. In the 1920s, the site produced some of [the] earliest handaxes ever discovered in Britain," noted excavation director Alastair Key from the University of Cambridge. "Now, for the first time, we have found rare evidence of scraping and piercing implements at this very early age." We can't wait to find out what these experts will unearth next! Stay tuned...

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