Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Mammoth Banquet Volume 55 Number 5, September/October 2002
by Eric A. Powell

Neandertals at a water hole in Britain help themselves to mammoth meat some 40,000 to 60,000 years ago. (English Heritage) [LARGER IMAGE]

A very rare find of Neandertal tools in association with mammoth bones was recently made at an ancient water hole in southern England, site of a mammoth feast some 40,000 to 60,000 years ago. Excavating in what is now a quarry, archaeologists from the Norfolk Archaeological Unit found the remains of four mammoths as well as 20 Neandertal flint axes "so fresh you can still shave with them," says Bill Bosimier, who is leading work at the site. He speculates Neandertals were drawn to the waterhole specifically to find mammoths. "In-situ Neandertal finds like this are also very rare in Britain," he adds.

Whether or not the Neandertals managed to kill the mammoths on their own is still an open question. "The presence of carcass beetles at the site suggests the mammoths died naturally," says Bosimier. "We also know carnivores gnawed on the bones. The Neandertals may have then scavenged the carcasses." Bosimier doesn't dismiss the idea of Neandertal mammoth hunters, though. "It's also possible that one or more of the mammoths at the site could have been killed and butchered by Neandertals. We just don't know."

The discovery comes on the heels of finds from another site in Norfolk that suggest hominids were present in Britain 700,000 years ago, 200,000 years earlier than previously thought.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America