Skip to comments.The Mysterious End Of Essex Man (UK)
Posted on 01/23/2005 3:16:48 PM PST by blam
The mysterious end of Essex man
Archaeologists now believe two groups of early humans fought for dominance in ancient Britain - and the axe-wielders won
Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday January 23, 2005
Divisions in British culture may be deeper than we thought. Scientists have discovered startling evidence that suggests different species of early humans may have fought to settle within our shores almost half a million years ago. They have found that two different groups - one wielding hand-axes, the other using Stone Age Stanley knives to slash and kill - could have been rivals for control of ancient Britain.
'The evidence is only tantalising, but it is intriguing,' said palaeontologist Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, London. 'Certainly it suggests Britain may well have been multicultural 400,000 years ago.'
This new interpretation of our prehistory is based on the recent discovery of a site - by archaeologists working with engineers building the Channel Tunnel high-speed rail link at Ebbsfleet in Kent - that shows ancient hunters once chased a giant elephant into a bog in Kent, trapped it there and then cut it to pieces, eating its flesh raw.
Four hundred thousand years ago, Britain's climate was warm, there was a land link to the continent and animal life included lions, rhinos, buffalos, and a species of elephant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus - the Ebbsfleet elephant - which stood four metres high at its shoulders and weighed twice its modern African equivalent.
'There are other sites where we have found elephant remains in this country,' said Southampton University archaeologist Dr Francis Wenban Smith, who led the Ebbsfleet excavations. 'However, this is the first that has been found with stone tools and that looks as if it was hunted and butchered.'
But it is the nature of the tools used for this butchery that has raised scientific eyebrows. At other ancient sites around Britain, archaeologists have found hand axes: beautifully honed, fist-sized tools that were probably held like daggers and used to rip and stab prey by a species of human called Homo heidelbergensis.
But none was found at Ebbsfleet. Instead, there were remains of dozens of much smaller stone implements, made up of razor-sharp flakes and blades. 'They were like Stanley knives,' said Wenban Smith. 'They could have slashed and torn to devastating effect.' Only one other major site in Britain, plus a couple of smaller ones, has revealed this distinctive assemblage of smaller stone tools: at Clacton, in Essex. Until recently, scientists were unsure of the importance of this 'Clactonian' culture. Now they have found a second, major site, a discovery that could have profound ramifications.
'This is extremely important,' said Prof Stringer, director of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project, which is investigating how the British Isles were originally colonised. 'It certainly supports the idea that there was more than one ancient culture at this time.'
Cultural variation in a creature that relied on brute strength and little intelligence for survival is considered improbable by scientists, a point stressed by Michael Pitts, editor of British Archaeology. 'That hominids this ancient should express "cultural" variation would add a new perspective to the behaviour of creatures that many of us still think of as being nearer apes than humans,' he states in the current issue of the journal.
Instead, he argues that two completely different human species, each with its own culture, may have been slugging it out for conquest of our shores.
The trouble is that scientists are stymied by the paucity of remains of men and women from this period. They have lots of tools but only a shinbone, two teeth and some bits of skull from a human.
'At this time in Europe, Homo heidelbergensis was giving way or evolving into Neanderthals,' said Stringer. 'But there are hints gleaned from comparing bits of their bones and tools that we have found in Britain and the continent that there may be separate species of this creature: one that made hand-axes and one that did not. This is one of the big questions of human evolution studies today and a major focus for our work.'
As to who triumphed in Britain between the hand axe wielders and the Clactonians, scientists have established that the remains of the former are almost always found in more recent archaeological layers and appear to replace those of the Clactonians. In other words, the fate of the first Essex men was probably extinction.
Cheddar Man must have been one of the axe carrying people.
Never bring a knife to an axe fight.
Fortunately, all the hand axes and long knives have now been rounded up the the authorities, lest someone hurt himself.
I don't know if I qualify as one of the more intelligent freepers but in my opinion, this guy just sounds cautious in the face of new information and evidence. About the right position for a scientist, I think.
Now that is just callous and cold. How could they have known? Just because they did something dumb, they got to die?
(The correct answer is: Yes.)
Maybe it was knife control that did them in...
Sounds like he's speculating and hoping the speculation is right, because he'd make a name for himself, if he is. But I don't think he's committed to it.
Case in point:
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
The GGG Digest -- Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)
Ping (they'll be along any minute now).
There are some scientists who don't think Neanderthals really existed.
You really think this warrants deploying the ping list? If you say so, I'll do it.
You could just do the science ping list. This is a fairly interesting article.
"..There are some scientists who don't think Neanderthals really existed...."
The bones weren't there? They were there but not H. neandertalensis?
Can you cite a ref?
They have found that two different groups - one wielding hand-axes, the other using Stone Age Stanley knives to slash and kill - could have been rivals for control of ancient Britain.
... Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, London. 'Certainly it suggests Britain may well have been multicultural 400,000 years ago.'
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