On a bend of the river Seine near Rouen in Normandy, archaeologists have found the remains of the oldest Norman ever discovered.
The three bones from the left arm of a pre-Neanderthal should shed fresh light on a little-known period. In particular, they could help scientists to understand the evolution of the squat, muscular hunters who died out 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, just after the first humans arrived in what is now Europe.
The discovery of the bones at Tourville-la-Rivière, 14km south of Rouen, is exceptional because “this is a period with very few fossils”, according to Bruno Maureille, a palaeontologist at the National Centre for Scientific Research. He said the arm bones, dating from 200,000 years ago, in the Middle Pleistocene era, were “the only known example from northern Europe”.
Jean-Philippe Faivre, a colleague at the centre, said that although similar discoveries had been made in the UK and Germany, the discovery in Normandy “fills a gap in our knowledge about how they evolved in this geographical area, and how they adapted to their environment”.
Debate continues over the origins of Neanderthals but they appear to have evolved in Europe in isolation. One expert said the Tourville specimen had echoes of the discovery of “Boxgrove Man”, whose fossilised tibia was found in West Sussex in 1993. “The English Channel didn’t exist in those days,” the expert added.
The arm bones – a humerus, radius and ulna – were found by archaeologists from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) at the end of a four-and-a-half-month dig on 10 September 2010. It has taken until now to complete scientific analysis, and today’s press conference coincided with publication of the find by 18 experts from France, Australia, the US and Spain in the open-access scientific journal PLOS ONE.
The bones come from a single person whose sex is not known, but who may have been an older teenager or an adult. The fossils and human occupation at the prehistoric site in Tourville date from 236,000BC to 183,000BC.
In pictures: 12 amazing archaeological discoveries
In pictures: 12 amazing archaeological discoveries
1/12 Ancient forest, discovered in February 2014
Ancient forest revealed by storms. The recent huge storms and gale force winds that have battered the coast of West Wales have stripped away much of the sand from stretches of the beach between Borth and Ynyslas. The disappearing sands have revealed ancients forests, with the remains of oak trees dating back to the Bronze Age, 6,000 years ago. The ancient remains are said by some to be the origins of the legend of ‚Cantre‚r Gwealod‚ , a mythical kingdom now submerged under the waters pif Cardigan Bay
2/12 Medieval royal palaces, discovered in November 2014
Archaeologists in southern England have discovered what may be one of the largest medieval royal palaces ever found – buried under the ground inside a vast prehistoric fortress at Old Sarum. The probable 12th century palace was discovered by archaeologists, using geophysical ground-penetrating ‘x-ray’ technology to map a long-vanished medieval city which has lain under grass on the site for more than 700 years
3/12 The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered ca. 1950
The Dead Sea Scrolls are almost 1,000 biblical manuscripts discovered in the decade after the Second World War in what is now the West Bank. The texts, mostly written on parchment but also on papyrus and bronze, are the earliest surviving copies of biblical and extra-biblical documents known to be in existence, dating over a 700-year period around the birth of Jesus. The ancient Jewish sect the Essenes is supposed to have authored the scrolls, written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, although no conclusive proof has been found to this effect
4/12 Diamond, discovered in March 2014
This rare diamond that survived a trip from deep within the Earth's interior confirmed that there is an ocean’s worth of water beneath the planet’s crust
5/12 Whale skeletons, discovered in February 2014
Chilean and Smithsonian paleontologists study several fossil whale skeletons at Cerro Ballena, next to the Pan-American Highway in the Atacama Region of Chile
6/12 Complete mammoth skeleton, discovered in November 2012
The first complete mammoth skeleton to be found in France for more than a century was uncovered in a gravel pit on the banks of the Marne, 30 miles north-east of Paris. Picture shows experts at work making a silicon cast of the mammoth's tusk
7/12 Million-year-old human footprints, discovered in February 2014
Photograph of the footprint hollows in situ on the beach as Happisburgh, Norfolk
8/12 Terracotta warrior, discovered in June 2010
Chinese archaeologists unearthed around 120 more clay figures in June 2010 excavations at the terracotta army site that surrounds the tomb of the nation's first emperor in the northwestern Shaanxi Province
© Jason Lee / Reuters
9/12 Neolithic 'lost avenue' - prehistoric stone circle, discovered in September 1999
The discovery of a Neolithic 'lost avenue' was described as one of the most important finds of the last century. Since the 1700s, archeologists and historians have argued over the existence of the huge sarsen stones, which were unearthed at the site of the world's biggest prehistoric stone circle at Avebury in Wiltshire
10/12 Byzantine mosaic, discovered in February 2007
Plans for a walkway at the centre of the furious dispute over Jerusalem's holiest site were delayed by the discovery of a Byzantine mosaic
11/12 Ancient gold, discovered in March 2014
Gold fitting for a dagger sheath (around 1900 BC.) found near Stonehenge
12/12 Rosetta Stone, discovered in 1799
The Rosetta Stone is a basalt slab inscribed with a decree of pharaoh Ptolemy Epiphanes (205-180 BC) in three languages, Greek, Hieroglyphic and Demotic script. Discovered near Rosetta in Egypt
Dr Maureille said: “The analysis tells us that Tourville man is closer to the Neanderthals than to modern man.”
He pointed out that the humerus has an unusual bone ridge where part of the deltoid muscle is attached. The ridge has been caused by a rupture of the ligament, which may have been due to repetitive movements, such as throwing. Similar bone ridges have been observed on modern athletes, according to Mr Maureille.
Archaeologists have known for a long time about the presence of animals and flint at Tourville. A first dig took place there in 2008, followed by the 2010 dig in a sand and gravel quarry which produced the latest discovery.
Céline Bémilli, an archaeozoologist with Inrap, said the excavations had produced the remains of about 15 animal species, including horses, deer, wolves, hares and even the first panther to be found at Tourville. Other finds from the same interglacial era, ending about 200,000 years ago, have included parts of skulls excavated in northern France at Biache-Saint-Vaast. Only about a dozen such sites exist throughout Europe.