An archaeology student has unearthed the oldest human fossil found in Britain - a tooth. Dating from half a million years ago, it belonged to a long extinct species of human - an ancestor of Neanderthal Man. It was found at Britain's most important Stone Age archaeological site, Boxgrove near Chichester in West Sussex and will shed light on how Britain's first inhabitants lived.
Dr Geoffrey Wainwright, English Heritage chief archaeologist, said yesterday: "The importance of these finds to the evolution of our species and understanding of human condition cannot be overestimated."
The tooth was found by Laura Basell, as 19-year-old student of archaeology at Bristol University. Using a trowel, she was sifting dirt when she found the tooth. "Everything you dig up you wonder is it human," she said. "I thought it was a deer tooth, but I was wrong."
Now, after learning the significance of her find, she said: "I can't quite believe it. It's like a dream. It's brilliant."
The fossil is from an extinct species called homo heidelbergensis - the first humans to colonise Europe. Fossils from only four such European individuals have ever been found - and two are from Boxgrove, which has also produced the world's oldest prehistoric bone tool, the world's oldest antler tool and what may be the remnants of the world's oldest wooden artefact - a 500,000 year old spear, as well as Europe's largest concentration of early Stone Age flint tools.Over recent weeks more than 3,000 pieces of animal bone have also been found - along with evidence that early Britons dined on rhino and bear.
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