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Old September 20th, 2013 #15
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The Earliest Britons Hunted And Ate Elephants

Image Caption: Elephant tusks at Ebbsfleet. Credit: University of Southampton

After digging up the remains of a prehistoric elephant and some crude hunting tools in 2003, archaeologists at the University of Southampton now say they have proof that early humans worked together to bring these beasts down.

These early humans lived thousands of years before the Neanderthals, the ancient species which most closely resembled modern humans. Until this discovery it was not known how these early humans came to migrate their way north to land in modern day Kent, England. The University of Southampton archaeologists now believe these humans followed their food to this area. Similar fossil discoveries in the area are rare, and this particular dig gave the researchers a wave of new evidence about some of the area’s very earliest settlers.

Dr. Francis Wenban-Smith first discovered the site as the High Speed 1 link from Channel Tunnel to London was being built some ten years ago.

Upon investigating the site, the archaeologist found the remains of a Palaeoloxodon antiquus, or a straight-tusked elephant. The site also contained fossilized elephant remains and a number of flint tools which may have been used to kill the beast.

The archaeologists also found the remains of several other animals, including extinct species of rhinoceros and lions, beaver, rabbit, shrew and various snails. After dating these remains, the University of Southampton say they date back around 420,000 years ago to a time when the earth’s climate was warming up after a long ice age. This period is referred to as the Hoxnian interglacial and, according to archaeologists, the climate would have been much warmer than present day.

In the nearly ten years since the excavation, Dr. Wenban-Smith and team have been analyzing the site’s remains searching for evidence of our ancestors’ way of life. Scattered around the elephant fossils — which is twice the size of today’s modern elephants — were 80 undisturbed flint tools which the team say were used to both kill and butcher the animal.

“Although there is no direct evidence of how this particular animal met its end, the discovery of flint tools close to the carcass confirm butchery for its meat, probably by a group of at least four individuals,” said Dr. Wenban-Smith in a statement.

“Early hominins of this period would have depended on nutrition from large herbivores. The key evidence for elephant hunting is that, of the few prehistoric butchered elephant carcasses that have been found across Europe, they are almost all large males in their prime, a pattern that does not suggest natural death and scavenging.”

“Although it seems incredible that they could have killed such an animal, it must have been possible with wooden spears.”

It’s been previously understood these early humans were nearly driven to extinction during the colder climate of the so-called Anglican glacation, or Great Ice Age, which struck northern Europe some 450,000 years ago.

Those few who did survive, however, might have followed these large elephants into the warmer weather of the Hoxnian interglacial period. This site also suggests they followed the beasts as far north as early Britain by way of a very shallow English channel.

Last year archaeologists at the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain issued a report claiming humans from the Middle Palaeolithic period, around 127,000 and 40,000 years ago, also ate the meat and marrow of elephants they had hunted and killed.

Ancient Britons Hunted Elephants - Science News - redOrbit