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Ancient farmers manured the land
'We're increasingly realising that there was a lot of violence in these early farming communities - they weren't peaceful hippie types,' says Amy Bogaard an archaeologist at the University of Oxford.
From Planet Earth Online
Europe's first farmers used sophisticated muckspreading techniques to keep their land fertile some eight millennia ago, according to new research. And this revolution in agriculture may have played an important part in the genesis of the violence between communities that's blighted human society ever since.
It seems people were manuring and watering their crops as long as 6000BC. Until recently, the consensus has been that farmers only started using animal dung during Iron Age or Roman times, and that more ancient farmers of the Neolithic used a slash-and-burn approach involving working a patch of land for a few years and then moving on once they'd exhausted its nutrients.
But a team of researchers has analysed charred pulse seeds and cereal grains from 13 Neolithic sites around Europe, looking at the relative proportions of several different forms of nitrogen, known as isotopes. They looked in particular at the relative abundance of the heavier nitrogen-15 isotope relative to its lighter sibling nitrogen-14.
Experiments on modern farms show that the more muck you spread on a field, and the more often you do it, the higher the ratio of N-15 to N-14 climbs. In crops across Europe, the paper's authors found clear evidence of that the locals were spreading the dung of goats, cattle, sheep and pigs on their fields much earlier than we'd assumed.
This suggests they understood how important the land's fertility was and tried to preserve or even increase it for the next generation, having noticed that animal dung let them grow bigger, healthier plants. This involved long-term investments of the time and effort needed to collect, transport and spread manure that would then slowly release its nutrients over years and decades.
This could have led to important social transformations; as farmers started to pass down fertile land to their children, some of the earliest divisions between rich and poor might have started to emerge. If heavy manuring had made one group's land unusually fertile, their neighbours might have been tempted to resort to violence to get it.
'The fact that farmers made long-term investments such as manuring their land sheds new light on the nature of the early farming landscapes in Neolithic times ,' says Dr Amy Bogaard, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford and lead author of the paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
'The idea that farmland could be cared for by the same family for generations seems quite an advanced notion, but rich fertile land would have been viewed as extremely valuable for growing crops,' she adds. 'We believe that as land was viewed as a commodity to be inherited, social differences in early European farming communities started to emerge between the haves and the have-nots.'
She cites the example of the Neolithic mass burial at Talheim in Germany, which holds the remains of a whole community who were massacred – men, women and children – with blows to the head from the stone axes that farmers used to clear land, arguing that this could have resulted from a raid intended to seize the community's land. 'We're increasingly realising that there was a lot of violence in these early farming communities - they weren't peaceful hippie types,' says Bogaard. 'Some of that violence was probably in the form of sporting or ritual contests between communities. But some of it was very deadly, like what we see at Talheim, where it looks like the attackers went in by night and killed everyone.'
The 124 samples of charred barley, wheat, lentils and peas the team examined came from harvested crops that were stored in buildings that then burned down. They came from sites dating from between 6000BC and 2400BC, and are taken from places across Europe including Hambledon Hill in Dorset and Lismore Fields in Derbyshire.
The NERC-funded study even suggests farmers understood which crops would benefit most from manure and concentrated their resources on them, leaving relatively hardy crops unfertilised; in one site in southern Greece, naked wheat had been heavily manured while barley had received very little fertilisation. Pulse crops, meanwhile, had received both manure and lots of water. 'Subsistence farmers are very observant of what we would see as very small differences in plant growth,' Bogaard explains. 'They would have noticed quickly that their middens and dung heaps produced much bigger, healthier plants, and later realised that certain crops benefited more from manure than others.'
Prehistoric mummy puzzle
From Planet Earth Online:
Mummified bodies made of chopped up people? It's not a legend from ancient Egypt but a find from the Outer Hebrides. Tamera Jones finds out how the latest forensic techniques were applied to the mystery of Britain's first prehistoric mummies.
When Professor Mike Parker Pearson from the University of Sheffield started excavating the Bronze Age Cladh Hallan settlement on South Uist, one of the first things his team found was a row of three roundhouses. Radio-carbon dating showed they were built around 1100 BC.
Further digging revealed several burials directly under the houses. Not so unusual in itself, but the archaeologists were surprised by the contorted and scrunched-up positions of the skeletons, which looked similar to mummy bundles found in Peru.
'We also noticed that the male skeleton had a full set of teeth in his lower jaw, but the upper set was completely missing,' says Pearson. 'Our first thought was that this was some kind of Bronze Age torture victim.'
But forensic pathology showed the two jaws didn't match at all. Several months of painstaking analysis revealed that in fact the man's skull, mandible and torso came from three different people.
'It looked like these individuals had been cut up and put back together to look like one person,' says Pearson.
Then the mystery deepened even further. When the bodies were dated they turned out to be several hundred years older than the houses, which meant they had been stored for several generations before they were buried.
The position of the bones in both adult skeletons suggested they had still been held together by soft tissue when they were buried, so they had been stored with particular care.
Pearson and biomedical archaeologist Professor Terry Brown from the University of Manchester, took the remains to NERC's Isotope Geosciences Laboratory where scientists used a range of techniques to work out where the bodies might have been kept. These included the rather grisly mercury intrusion porosimetry, which shows how far gut bacteria has eaten into the surrounding bones after death. In this case, not very far; decay had started in the male's torso but then something had stopped it, and there was no sign of decay in the female corpse at all.
Other techniques showed Pearson and his colleagues that the surfaces of the bones had become demineralised, something that happens in an acidic environment. All the forensic evidence suggested that the bodies had been preserved in a peat bog for several months before being taken out and dried. They must then have been stored above ground for hundreds of years before being merged with other mummified individuals and finally buried.
'At the time this was the first ever evidence of mummification outside of South America and Egypt,' says Pearson. 'Before this, mummification in the British Bronze Age was unheard of.'
Most recently, DNA from the female's skull, jaw, arm and thigh bones has shown that, just like the male, the woman's skeleton was made up of at least three individuals - and the cranium and mandible were male.
What led our ancestors to mummify and combine these bodies is anyone's guess. But Pearson thinks it has something to do with merging ancestries.
'Lots of fields and ditches were being built across Britain in the middle Bronze Age', he says. 'An obvious thing to do would be to coalesce ancestors' remains as a way of asserting rights over this newly enclosed land.'
German Archaeologists Discover World’s Oldest Wooden Wells
7,000-year-old water wells unearthed in eastern Germany suggest that prehistoric farmers in Europe were skilled carpenters long before metal was discovered or used for tools, made water wells out of oak timbers.
The finds, reported in a paper in the journal PLoS ONE, contradict the common belief that metal tools were required to make complex wooden structures.
The wooden water wells discovered in Germany by the team led by Dr Willy Tegel of the University of Freiburg are over 7,000 years old, and suggest that early farmers had unexpectedly refined carpentry skills.
“This early Neolithic craftsmanship now suggests that the first farmers were also the first carpenters,” the archeologists said.
These first Central European farmers migrated from the Great Hungarian Plain approximately 7,500 years ago, and left an archeological trail of settlements, ceramics and stone tools across the fertile regions of the continent, a record named Linear Pottery Culture.
Full news story from Sci-news here
Original article on PLoS ONE here
New light on the Nazca Lines
Archaeologists gain insight into ancient desert drawings – by walking them
The first findings of the most detailed study yet by two British archaeologists into the Nazca Lines – enigmatic drawings created between 2,100 and 1,300 years ago in the Peruvian desert – have been published in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity.
As part of a five-year investigation, Professor Clive Ruggles of the University of Leicester's School of Archaeology and Ancient History and Dr Nicholas Saunders of the University of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology have walked 1,500 km of desert in southern Peru, tracing the lines and geometric figures created by the Nasca people between 100 BC and AD 700.
The confusing palimpsest of ‘geoglyphs'—desert drawings—has attracted a host of theories purporting to explain them ever since they were discovered during the 1920s – including the bizarre ideas of Erich Von Däniken who supposed they were made by visiting extra-terrestrials.
Professor Ruggles, Emeritus Professor of Archaeoastronomy at the University, and Dr Saunders combined the experience and knowledge gained by walking the lines with scientific data obtained from satellite digital mapping, studying the layering where designs are superimposed, and examining the associated pottery. The result is the most detailed such study to date.
In the midst of their study area is a unique labyrinth originally discovered by Ruggles when he spent a few days on the Nazca desert back in 1984. Its existence came as a complete surprise. Professor Ruggles recounts: “When I set out along the labyrinth from its centre, I didn’t have the slightest idea of its true nature. Only gradually did I realize that here was a figure set out on a huge scale and still traceable, that it was clearly intended for walking, and that I was almost certainly the first person to have recognized it for what it was, and walked it from end to end, for some 1500 years. Factors beyond my control brought the 1984 expedition to an abrupt halt and it was only 20 years later that I eventually had the opportunity to return to Nazca, relocate the figure and study it fully”.
Invisible in its entirety to the naked eye, the only way to become aware of the labyrinth is to walk its 4.4km length, experiencing a series of disorienting direction changes and other expected features.
As Professor Ruggles explains: “The labyrinth is completely hidden in the landscape, which is flat and virtually featureless. As you walk it, only the path stretching ahead of you is visible at any given point. Similarly, if you map it from the air its form makes no sense at all.
“But if you walk it, ‘discovering’ it as you go, you have a set of experiences that in many respects would have been the same for anyone walking it in the past. The ancient Nasca peoples created the geoglyphs, and used them, by walking on the ground. ‘Sharing’ some of those experiences by walking the lines ourselves is an important source of information that complements the ‘hard’ scientific and archaeological evidence and can really aid our attempts to make anthropological sense of it.”
The arid conditions have ensured the remarkable preservation of Nazca's fragile geoglyphs for a millennium and a half. Nonetheless, segments of nearly all of the lines and figures—including the labyrinth—have been washed away by flash floods that occurred from time to time in the past. And, of course, people through the ages have walked across the desert plateau to cross from one valley to another.
Professor Ruggles and Dr Saunders have studied the integrity of many lines and figures within their 80km2 study area. Dr Saunders says: "Meandering and well-worn trans-desert pathways served functional purposes but they are quite different from the arrow-straight lines and geometric shapes which seem more likely to have had a spiritual and ritual purpose. It may be, we suggest, that the real importance of some of these desert drawings was in their creation rather than any subsequent physical use."
Certainly, the pristine state and well-preserved edges of the labyrinth suggest that it was never walked by more than a few people in single file. In fact, the survival of many geoglyphs seems remarkable given the proximity of the area to the pilgrimage centre of Cahuachi, in the nearby Nazca valley, and the fact that people carried on walking across the pampa during the ensuing centuries right up to modern times.
Even if the labyrinth was not unique when it was built, it may well be the only such construction whose integrity has been preserved to the extent that it still can be recognized in today's landscape. As Professor Ruggles observes: “Excavations commonly uncover objects undisturbed for centuries and even millennia. But it is hard to conceive many places on the planet were you could still “discover” a human construction that has lain hidden on the surface of the ground for as long as 1500 years, simply by walking along it and seeing where your feet take you.”
Issud by University of Leicester Press Office on 10 December 2012
Bronze Age stone back after car crash
A Bronze Age standing stone that was knocked down by a reversing car last year has been returned to its original position in Pembrokeshire.
The Bedd Morris stone on Dinas Mountain near Newport has been a landmark for around 3,500 years.
Standing at 6ft (1.8m) it is thought the vehicle accidentally knocked over the stone, crushing a fence.
Full story from the BBC
The British Museum - Ice Age art exhibition
Ice Age art - arrival of the modern mind
An exhibition 40,000 years in the making
7 February - 26 May 2013
Discover masterpieces from the last Ice Age drawn from across Europe in this ground-breaking show. Created between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago by artists with modern minds like our own, this is a unique opportunity to see the world's oldest known sculptures, drawings and portraits.
Bogged down in history
Peat bogs reveal only sporadic exploitation of South-west England's tin deposits in the Bronze Age, suggesting only limited tin mining and bronze production in the area at that time.
From Planet Earth Online:
Britain was a major source of tin in the ancient world but details of how this important commodity was exploited were sketchy at best - until Andy Meharg and colleagues Kevin Edwards and Ed Schofield got stuck into two West Country peat bogs.
Tin has played an important role in the development of human society. Either on its own or mixed with copper to form bronze, it had a place in everything from coins and jewellery to armour and weapons. But unlike copper, tin deposits are extremely rare, and ancient Mediterranean cultures (from the Bronze Age through to Roman times) had to look to the remote Atlantic fringes of Europe for their closest supplies.
South-west Britain was home to the largest European tin deposits, and this mineral wealth must have been a significant source of economic and cultural contact between Britain and mainland Europe. But there is not much evidence, archaeological or historical, for how the tin trade developed.
Around 440BC, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about tin sources in the ancient world: 'I cannot speak with certainty, however, about the marginal regions which lie toward the west, in Europe...Nor am I certain of the existence of the Cassiterides Islands, from which we get our tin.' Pytheas of Massalia (modern Marseilles), who is credited with being the first person to circumnavigate Britain around 300BC, also talked of a tin-bearing island named Mictus within six days' sail of Britain.
Cornwall, particularly St Michael's Mount, has long been associated with the 'tin islands' - the Cassiterides - to which Herodotus referred, but it's not much to go on.
In an attempt to add to the body of evidence, myself and colleagues at the University of Aberdeen looked to the peat bogs of the south-west. These bogs have been soaking up atmospheric pollution for centuries and we hoped that pollution would include traces of tin released into the atmosphere from mining and tinworking. The sites we chose - Tor Royal on Dartmoor and Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor - are themselves better known as the location for Sherlock Holmes' encounter with the Hound of the Baskervilles, and the place where King Arthur deposited Excalibur, respectively. More pertinent to our study, though, is that both lie undisturbed in the middle of an ancient tin-mining region, and both are ombrotrophic - they get all their water from rainfall rather than from springs or streams. This is important because it means any minerals they contain must have been deposited from the atmosphere rather than carried from surrounding rocks or soils.
Our approach was based on the fact that minute particles of tin are released when ore is crushed and smelted, and these eventually fall back to the ground or are washed out of the atmosphere by rain. Assuming these particles had accumulated and lain undisturbed in the bogs, analysing the amount of tin at different depths would give us a sequence of tin exploitation, with greater concentrations representing periods of more intense mining and smelting. And because the bogs are made up of organic material, we could radiocarbon date the layers associated with different phases of tin deposition to find out when they had occurred.
Our specialised equipment enabled us to core 4m down through the peat, so we were able to work out a chronology of tin deposition and, by analogy, of tin mining and smelting, going back thousands of years.
This chronology adds so much detail to what we know about this period that it will allow us to rewrite the story of ancient Britain's trade links with Europe.
Analysis of the Himmelsscheibe, a bronze disk found near Leipzig, Germany, which is inlayed with a gold map of the heavens and dates to around 1600BC, indicates that it contains tin ores from south-west Britain. So British tin was undoubtedly traded to some extent during the Bronze Age, but our findings suggest that production was low.
The cores showed that, at most, there was only sporadic atmospheric deposition of tin into the peat during the Bronze Age, between around 2500 and 800BC, and this pattern continued until early Roman colonisation, around AD100. This confirms what we had already gleaned from archaeological and fragmentary documentary evidence; that there may have been only limited tin mining and bronze production in south-west Britain over this period.
Damage prosecution decision imminent
Investigations into the damage to Priddy Circles on the Mendip hills have been completed.
A 72-year-old man has been released from police bail and the case has been passed to the jurisdiction of English Heritage who are expecting to decide what action, if any, to take in the next few weeks.
The Priddy Circles are one of the most important neolithic monuments in the country.
The circles, which are contemporary with the first stages of Stonehenge, are a scheduled monument.
One of them was damaged at some point between May 1 and June 23 last year and the damage to the circle outraged the archeological community.
There have been calls for the damaged sections to be reinstated by archeologists at the expense of those responsible.
If convicted those responsible could be fined anything up to £20,000.
They could also be jailed for up to six months and could have to pay to have it reinstated.
The circles could also be compulsorily purchased by the government in order to protect it.
Anyone accused of damaging a monument can say in their defence that they tried to protect the monument while carrying out work. They can also say that they had to carry out the work for safety reasons or did not know that the monument was within the area affected by the works or that it was a scheduled monument.
An English Heritage spokesman said: "A detailed investigation has been carried out by English Heritage in partnership with Avon and Somerset Police into the circumstances surrounding damage to one of the Priddy Circles.
"The evidence gathered in the course of the investigation is now with English Heritage to consider and a decision as to any further action will be taken in the near future."
A warning to others
From the Irish Independent
Sean Quinn's downfall is fairies' revenge say locals in Cavan
He was once Ireland's richest man, with a fortune of €4.7bn, before his huge gamble on Anglo Irish Bank shares toppled him into bankruptcy.
But for some in his heartland on the Cavan/Fermanagh border, the downfall of Sean Quinn has more to do with the wrath of the fairies than risky business moves.
According to these locals, it was the decision to move a megalithic burial tomb 20 years ago which led to the fall of his cement, hotels, and insurance empire.
The Aughrim Wedge Tomb stood for 4,000 years in the townland after which it is named, two miles outside Ballyconnell, Co Cavan.
But when it got in the way of the expansion of a massive quarry for Quinn Concrete in 1992, permission was granted by the Office of Public Works to move it.
Following a full excavation of the site, it was moved -- stone by stone -- and relocated in the grounds of Mr Quinn's Slieve Russell Hotel on the other side of the village.
Mr Quinn has since lost the cement works, the hotel, a raft of other businesses and his multi-billion euro fortune. According to bankruptcy documents, he now claims to have just €11,000 in the bank.
Some locals have linked the movement of the tomb to Mr Quinn's financial woes.
"I'm a big supporter of Sean Quinn because of what he has done for this area but that tomb should never have been moved," said publican Toirbhealach Lyons, the owner of Molly Maguire's pub in Ballyconnell.
"There would be a lot of people who would think you could never have any luck after moving an ancient tombstone."
Such superstitions are common and widely believed according to University of Ulster folklore expert Seamus MacFlionn.
"Cavan is full of ancient sites like these and therefore many people there would be more superstitious about moving any ancient rath, tomb or fairy tree," he said.
"People do genuinely believe that to do so brings bad luck. It's part of our ancient Irish history," he added.
However, not everyone in the area subscribes to the view that the movement of the tomb brought Mr Quinn his bad luck. One sceptic is Ballyconnell butcher Gerard Crowe, "It's a load of auld rubbish. . . Simple as that," he said.
Stonehenge byways to remain open
From the Salisbury Journal
A Planning inspector has ruled that byways surrounding Stonehenge will remain open.
The decision follows inquiries into proposals to close the byways as well as parts of the A344 and the inspector has decided that although the road will close, the byways should remain open.
English Heritage plans to return the area to grass as part of plans for a new visitors' centre at Airman's Corner.
Planning inspector Alan Boyland said: "I accept that Wiltshire has a considerably greater length of byways than any other county. This is not however, in itself, a reason for allowing a further loss for recreational motor vehicle users.
"In this case, the loss of a further 7km, particularly given the strategic importance of those routes, and without similar alternative routes being available, would in my view be significantly detrimental to the current users."
At the inquiry, Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon objected to the proposals to close the byways as he said it is a violation of his human rights not to be able to access the area, particularly during Pagan ceremonies such as celebrations of the solstices and equinox.
Mr Pendragon said: "It appears that the inspector has erred on the side of common sense and found himself in agreement with the points made."
The new visitor centre has got planning permission and despite funding problems English Heritage hopes the it can be completed by 2013.
English Heritage not good for Cornwall's heritage
A Penzance archaeologist and historian has joined with Cornish MP George Eustice in calling for 'English' Heritage to be replaced, in Cornwall, with a locally based body.
Craig Weatherhill, author of several books, papers and articles, is exasperated by what he terms: "This arrogant quango's disgraceful neglect of, and contempt for, Cornwall's valuable heritage".
The latest in a series of incidents stems from a site meeting on Aug 6th, by groups concerned with serial damage to the Tregeseal stone circle, St Just, and associated ancient monuments, allegedly by activities imposed upon the moorland by sister quango Natural 'England'.
"Initially, 'English' Heritage did not want to know, "says Mr Weatherhill, "until the Celtic League, an organisation recognised by the United Nations, became involved. The Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments, who attended, promised to produce his recommendations within a fortnight. He failed to do so. Frequent enquiries since then have merely produced adjusted promises, the last being for Oct.19. That has come and gone, and still there is nothing. It is nowhere near good enough.
'English' Heritage has a long record of turning blind eyes to the damage and destruction of ancient sites in Cornwall, from the Cadbury's Creme Egg Hunt in 1984, to the utter destruction of numerous sites they are appointed to protect. They ruined the fogous at Carn Euny and Chysauster, and publicly insulted those who spoke out. According to their then Chairman, the latter 'wasn't exactly Stonehenge', which pretty well sums up their whole attitude. Unless it is a site from which they can turn a profit, they simply do not want to know. In fact, they've hived off all the guardianship sites they were appointed to manage to people like the National Trust and the Cornwall Heritage Trust – except for those which generate revenue."
Referring to the original bid that secured World Heritage Site status for Cornish mining, Mr Weatherhill outlined the actions of 'English' Heritage to delist and support the demolition of a Grade II star engine house near St Austell. "EH's case," he said, "was that the engine house was worthless as it did not contain an engine. This was astonishingly ignorant, and not only effectively placed all but two Cornish engine houses at serious risk, but almost jeopardised the entire WHS bid. Of course, it need hardly be said that the applicant was a major corporation".
"At Tintagel in 1998," he added, "news of the discovery of a piece of slate incised with names of 6th century men, including one called Artognou, was suppressed by EH until the start of the peak holiday season. Then they arranged headlines in every major newspaper, claiming proof of King Arthur. Of course, this was total bilge, but EH was far more interested in the gate money than they were giving historical facts. Our heritage deserves much, much better than this.
"In 1988, Penwith Council wrote to EH, concerned that significant monuments in the area had no legal protection. EH assured them that a radical new Scheduling list was in progress, to be complete within 5 years. It never appeared, not to this very day, but EH kept on giving the Council that assurance." Mr Weatherhill says. "Then, just last year, I came across a document written by Cornwall's Historic Environment Service in 2008, clearly stating that all Scheduling in West Penwith had been halted in 1987, EH deciding that the new Environmentally Sensitive Area scheme for Penwith would be adequate protection. Of course, it was no such thing. The ESA had no statutory teeth, and only a voluntary take-up. If that wasn't bad enough, EH had deliberately lied, several times, to the local authority! I know this to be fact, because I was the officer at the Council who wrote the letters.
"EH's latest piece of blinding arrogance is to see a play about World War II at Pendennis Castle cancelled because of the quango's crazy insistence that all reference to Nazis and Jews be written out of the script. It's unbelievable!"
Mr Weatherhill, who became a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd in 1981 for services to archaeology, claimed he could cite many more cases of 'English' Heritage's neglect and misrepresentation, least of all that which marketed Cornish Celtic heritage as that of a totally unconnected people. "There is a frankly sinister political aspect to EH's policies", he claimed.
His call for the disbanding of 'English' Heritage and Natural 'England' is also economically sensible, he suggests. "If the government is serious about curtailing expenditure," he says, "then what is the sense in maintaining two tiers of administration in both fields? Get rid of the national bodies, and devolve their powers to local level and local knowledge. We still await signs of Mr Cameron's much-vaunted 'localism', especially on this side of the Amazon*, so here's a perfect way to kickstart it."
He added that most Cornish people he had spoken to would be greatly relieved to see the backs of both quangoes.
*This refers to David Cameron's on-air blunder regarding protests over his proposed transgression of Cornwall's historic River Tamar border with the statement: "It's hardly the Amazon, is it?"
Ancient sites and monuments damaged in Pembrokeshire
From the BBC News:
"Ancient sites and monuments in north Pembrokeshire have been blighted with graffiti, broken glass and an abandoned car, it has been claimed.
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority says a car contaminated a Site of Special Scientific Interest below the Carn Ffoi Iron Age Fort.
It also says a megalithic stone at Bedd Arthur, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, has had names scratched into it.
Historic monuments agency Cadw said damage was often "irreversible".
The park authority's criticisms followed news that another ancient stone, Bedd Morris near Newport, was recently toppled after being hit by a vehicle."
The full article on the BBC News site
Snails help date Britain's last three million years
Scientists have built the most comprehensive timeline yet for working out the exact order in which geological and archaeological events happened in Britain over the last three million years. And they've done it using fossilised snails.
The mammoth 11-year project, published online in Nature, is the most comprehensive of its kind and clears up a number of archaeological and geological debates.
It shows that our ancestors lived in Britain during most of the warm periods of the last few million years. But it supports the idea that they were absent in the most recent warm period – or interglacial – 125,000 years ago. During this time, the climate was warm enough for hippopotamuses to have roamed the British Isles.
'It's possible that the warm climate contributed to higher sea levels and people just couldn't get across the Strait of Dover,' says Dr Kirsty Penkman from the University of York, lead author of the study.
...The timeline is so complete that any debate over the timing of human occupation in Britain or past geological events should now be dead in the water.
The archaeologist Professor Mark Horton at Belas Knap with Heather Sebire, the Historic Property Curator with English Heritage in the west of England.