British archaeologists rediscover the 'home' of the last Neanderthals

British archaeologists rediscover the 'home' of the last Neanderthals

A study published in The Journal of Quaternary Science reveals that a key archaeological site has preserved geological deposits that were believed to have been lost as a result of an excavation that took place 100 years ago.

The discovery was made when the team undertook field work to stabilize and investigate a portion of the cave at "La Cotte de St. Helier", on the southeast Jersey shore.

A large part of the place contained sediments dating from the last ice age, preserving them 250,000 years from climate change and archaeological evidence.

In addition, more Neanderthal stone tools have been found than in all the British Isles combined and are believed to contain the only known late Neanderthals in Northwest Europe.

«In terms of sediment volume, richness and depth of the archaeological site, there is nothing quite like it in the British Isles. Given that we thought that these deposits had been removed in their entirety by previous researchers, finding that there is still so much left is really exciting, as much or more than the discovery of a new site.«Commented Dr. Matt Pope of the Institute of Archeology of the University of London, who helped run the study.

We have proceeded to optically dating sediments with a technique called luminescence stimulation, which measures the last time the sand grains were exposed to sunlight. This was carried out at the Luminescence Dating Research Laboratory for Archeology and Art History at the University of Oxford.

The results showed that a part of the sediment sequence dates between the 100,000 and 47,000 years old, indicating that the teeth of the Neanderthals who 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 may be related to previously excavated deposits opens up a range of very interesting possibilities.»Says Dr. Martin Bates of Trinity St. Davids University, who is spearheading current fieldwork at the site.

The findings bring the large collections of stone tools, animal bones and, of course, Neanderthal man who continues to be studied under the renovated zone.

«This future excavation will give us the opportunity to subject this place to the wide range of approaches we use today in Paleolithic archeology and Quaternary science. For example, we hope to be able to link it to the broader Neanderthal landscapes through the study of deposits of similar age around the island and, through bathymetric survey, at the bottom of the sea.«, Bates pointed out.

Scientists were sure from the beginning that the deposits held some archaeological potential, but these dates indicate that something exceptional has been discovered. There are also a series of deposits that cover the last 120,000 years that are still preserved on the site. This covers, fundamentally, the period in which Neanderthal populations were becoming extinct, this period being that of the transition to our current species, Homo sapiens.

The work, funded by NERC, represented the first formal program of scientific research that focused on the site since the early 1980s. Since then this site has been managed and preserved by the Société Jerisaise, the Jersey-based academic society, involved always in the initial investigation of the site and who has continued to manage and protect the site to this day.

«We may be able to use this evidence to better understand why Neanderthal populations disappeared from this region (and the rest) and whether they ever shared the landscape with the species that ultimately replaced them: us.«, Pope affirmed.

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