(ORDO NEWS) — Artifacts used by early humans in what is now Great Britain have been found to date back at least 560,000 years ago. These artifacts are among the earliest in Europe and the oldest known in Britain.
In the 1920s, archaeologists discovered ancient hand axes at a site in Fordwich, Canterbury. Their age, however, was unknown.
Several of the guns now in the British Museum have been dated by Alastair Key of the University of Cambridge and colleagues using the modern dating method. They also carried out new excavations at the site, where they found further evidence of prehistoric human activity.
Hand axes may have been used for butchering animals and preparing skins for clothing. According to David Bridgland, a researcher at Durham University in the UK, “Early humans supposedly used animal skins to keep warm.”
To determine the age of the tools, the scientists used a technique known as infrared radiofluorescence dating. New excavations have helped determine which layer of sand at the site contained the hand axes discovered a century earlier, allowing for this method, which involves dating the sand in which the tools were buried.
The method consists in determining the time when the grains of sand last saw light. According to Bridgland, “this gives a signal of how long the tools have been buried.”
The team determined the age of the tools between 560,000 and 620,000 years old. Thus, hand axes are among the earliest discovered in Europe. However, according to Bridgland, they are still relatively new compared to hand axes found in Africa, some of which are over a million years old.
Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in the UK adds: “These are noteworthy results.” The Fordwich examples are the earliest hand axes from Britain and some of the oldest known hand axes in Europe, although we have even earlier stone tool collections from Happiesburg in Norfolk and Pakefield in Suffolk.
Although the age of approximately 600,000 years is close to the age of the Mauer sandpit in Germany, where a Homo heidelbergensis jawbone was found that may have been the species, Stringer adds: “We don’t know what kind of human was involved in this process.” .
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