Durham explores the ancient human occupation of Britain
(8 November 2006)
Durham University is part of an exciting project exploring the ancient human occupation of Britain that has just secured a further grant of £999,000, funding which will enable the project to continue until 2010.
The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project (AHOB) is now in its second phase and the project, which started in October 2001, has brought together archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists from the Natural History Museum, the British Museum, Royal Holloway, University of London and Durham University. Rebecca Scott, a Postdoctoral Researcher in Palaeolithic Archaeology, and Dr Mark White, a Senior Lecturer in Palaeolithic Archaeology, both from Durham University, are among two of the specialists working on the project hoping to find archaeological evidence of Britain’s earliest colonisers. “It’s a very exciting project to be involved in” said Dr Mark White, “and we’re aiming to build up a picture of the presence of early humans in Britain during the Pleistocene, an era which occurred approximately 1.8 million to 12,000 years ago. We’ve already discovered evidence suggesting the human occupation of Britain dates back as far as 700,000 years, 200,000 years earlier than had originally been thought.” The first year of the new phase of the project will include extracting DNA from a fossilised jaw, found at Kent’s Tavern in Devon, to determine whether it is that of a modern human or a late Neanderthal man. Initial radio-carbon dating on the remains seem to suggest they could be 35,000 years old, meaning the fossil could date to the time when modern humans may have first encountered the Neanderthals in Western Europe. If this is found to be the case, it will be the first fossil of its kind to be found on the British mainland and could yield crucial information about how early man spread across Europe. Professor Sir Richard Brook, Director of the Leverhulme Trust, one of the largest all-subjects providers of research funding in the UK which provided the grant for the AHOB project, said: “The Leverhulme Trustees have been greatly encouraged both by the progress made by the AHOB project in unravelling this first element in Britain’s history, and by the diversity of expertise brought to the task. The sustenance of the research momentum, therefore, enjoys their fullest support.”