“presumably somebody made a mistake.… but everybody’s convinced that nobody made a mistake, so it’s really intriguing. ” — Randolf Pohl, Page 7
In the News
go north, young
brave the chilly
stone tools in england hint at
early arrival of human relatives
Excavations at a site in south- eastern England indicate that hominids chilled out there a surprisinglylong time ago.
Discoveries at Happisburgh, situated
on an eroding stretch of coastline near the
city of Norwich, show that members of
an as-yet-unidentified Homo species settled on the fringes of northern Europe’s
boreal forests at least 800,000 years ago,
well before many scientists had assumed,
say archaeologist Simon Parfitt of University College London and his colleagues.
Hominids repeatedly trekked to this
northern locale, Parfitt’s team reports
in the July 8 Nature. In
excavations from 2005
to 2008, the researchers found 78 palm-sized
stones with intentionally sharpened edges in
several sediment layers.
“We suspect these
tools were made by the
last dregs of a larger
that had come when the
area was warmer, but
hung on and survived
Palm-sized stone tools uncovered at a site (shown) in happisburgh, england, sug-
gest that hominids may have lived in northern europe at least 800,000 years ago.
under challenging conditions as the climate cooled,” says anthropologist and
study coauthor Chris Stringer of the
Natural History Museum in London.
Until half a dozen years ago, researchers thought that hominids reached
northern Europe no earlier than
500,000 years ago, says Robin Dennell
of the University of Sheffield in England. “Now it’s anyone’s
guess when our earliest
ancestors came this far
north,” he says.
Fossil finds show
that hominids migrating out of Africa
reached western Asia
by 1. 8 million years ago
(SN: 5/13/00, p. 308)
and Spain’s Atapuerca
Mountains as early as
1. 2 million years ago
(SN: 3/29/08, p. 196).
a land bridge linked today’s
england to the rest of europe
during the early Pleistocene.
Recent stone-tool finds at Pakefield,
another site in southeastern England, indicate that hominids lived
there 700,000 years ago (SN: 1/14/06,
p. 29). Because the climate warmed
briefly at that time, researchers proposed
that hominids spread northward when
temperatures rose and retreated south
when the going got cold.
The Happisburgh finds hammer that
hypothesis, Parfitt’s team contends. An
array of environmental clues—including
remains of cold-adapted animals, insects
and plants—excavated along with the
stone tools indicate that hominids weathered chilly northern European winters.
Summer temperatures in Happisburgh
were similar to or slightly warmer than
those of today, the team estimates, but
winters were probably at least 3 degrees
Celsius cooler: “still miserable for those
used to Mediterranean climes,” write
geochronologists Andrew Roberts and
july 31, 2010 | science news | 5