Ancient humans in Britain project gets funding

06 October 2009

The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project (AHOB) starts its 3rd phase this month, thanks to a £1.1 million grant from the Leverhulme Trust.

Ground-breaking discoveries, such as dating human occupation of Britain back as far as 700,000 years, have been revealed by the international team of scientists, from the Natural History Museum, the British Museum and 8 major universities,

AHOB started in October 2001 and the grant means the team will now continue their research until 2012. As well as ancient human occupation, they will also examine the dispersal of early humans across continental Europe.

Skull of an ancient Briton from Cheddar Gorge that is about 10,000 years old.

Skull of an ancient Briton from Cheddar Gorge that is about 10,000 years old.

Dr Chris Stringer, Natural History Museum human origins expert and AHOB director says, ‘It is fantastic news that the Leverhulme Trust are continuing to fund AHOB.

‘We will carry on our work in East Anglia looking for evidence of even older occupation than that at Pakefield, near Lowestoft, where we have found evidence of the oldest known Britons.’

‘Hopefully we’ll find out even more about Britain’s earliest colonisers, and possibly even their fossil remains.’

Suffolk and Norfolk sites

The team will study new sites along the Suffolk and Norfolk coasts to find evidence of the first human pioneers to reach northern Europe. The unique preservation of animal and plant remains alongside stone tools will allow a detailed reconstruction of their environment and shed light on how humans adapted from the warmer climates of southern Europe to the cooler climates of the north.

North Sea sites

Other new sites discovered beneath the North Sea, should provide evidence for ancient human activity from a time when the area was a broad plain connecting Britain to northwest Europe. Recently a Neanderthal skull bone and a hand axe was uncovered from one North Sea site.

New dating methods
Gough's Cave in Somerset. New radiocarbon dates suggest humans this their home after ice age

Gough's Cave in Somerset. New radiocarbon dates suggest humans made this their home after the peak of the last ice age.

AHOB3 will use new methods of radiocarbon dating on sites across the continent to investigate the last Neanderthals and the immigration of modern humans into new territories. They also want to find out how different groups of people reacted to the extreme changes in climate over the past 50,000 years.

Proud of progress

Leverhulme Trust Director, Sir Richard Brook, has been overwhelmed by the story the team has so far uncovered and is proud to continue the Trust’s involvement in this ground-breaking research.

‘The dramatic progress that has been made,’ he says, ‘in the understanding of human migrations to and from Britain in ancient times has made consideration of the wider European stage a fascinating prospect for future research exploration. The Leverhulme Trustees are delighted to support the undertaking of this next step in the journey.’

  • by Yvonne Da Silva
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