Archaeologists rediscover the lost home of the last Neanderthals
Archaeologists working on the Channel island of Jersey, England, have rediscovered a record of Neanderthal archaeology that was thought to be long lost.
The study, published in the Journal of Quaternary Science, reveals that the archaeological ‘hot spot’ has not lost all of its crucial geological deposits, which have preserved thousands of years of climate change and archaeological evidence, and which were thought to have been removed through excavation just over 100 years ago.
“In terms of the volume of sediment, archaeological richness and depth of time, there is nothing else like it known in the British Isles. Given that we thought these deposits had been removed entirely by previous researchers, finding that so much still remains is as exciting as discovering a new site,” says Dr Matt Pope of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, who helped lead the research.
The site has produced more Neanderthals artefacts, including stone tools, animal remains and Neanderthal teeth, than the rest of the British Isles put together, and contains the only known late Neanderthal remains from north west Europe. This offers archaeologists one of the most important records of Neanderthal behaviour available in the region.
The discovery was made when the team undertook fieldwork to stabilise and investigate a portion of the La Cotte de St Brelade cave, on Jersey’s south eastern coastline. The team dated sediments at the site by measuring the last time crystalline sand grains were exposed to sunlight.
The results showed that part of the sequence of sediments dates between 100,000 and 47,000 years old, indicating that Neanderthal teeth which were discovered at the site in 1910 were younger than previously thought, and probably belonged to one of the last Neanderthals to live in the region.
The research team also has a sequence of preserved deposits which spans the last 120,000 years which, crucially, includes the period in which Neanderthal populations supposedly went ‘extinct’ and were replaced by modern humans. This evidence will be used to try to gain further insights into when Neanderthal populations disappeared from the region and whether they ever cohabitated with Homo sapiens, who eventually replaced them.