Neanderthal treasure trove 'at bottom of sea'

Some of the world's best preserved prehistoric landscapes survive in pristine condition at the bottom of the North Sea, archaeologists claimed yesterday.

Academic interest in what are being described as drowned Stone Age hunting grounds is likely to increase dramatically after the discovery of 28 Neanderthal flint axes on the sea bed off the East Anglian coast.

Dating from at least 50,000-60,000 years ago, they were found with other flint artefacts, a large number of mammoth bones, teeth and tusk fragments, and pieces of deer antler. The sea bed location was probably a Neanderthal hunters' kill site or temporary camp site.

The axes – one of the largest groups ever found – were spotted by a keen-eyed amateur archaeologist when a consignment of North Sea gravel arrived at the Dutch port of Flushing.

The cache was found 8 miles off Great Yarmouth and is the most northerly point in the North Sea that Neanderthal tools have been discovered. It had been feared that the ice sheets that destroyed most pre-ice age Brit-ish landscapes had done the same to the land surfaces which existed where the North Sea is now.

But archaeologists now suspect that some Neanderthal landscapes have survived under the North Sea. What's more, they are now certain that hundreds or even thousands of square miles of post-ice age prehistoric landscapes do survive there. On land they have largely been destroyed or degraded by centuries of agriculture, later human settlement and natural erosion.

The North Sea is of immense value to archaeologists and is the largest area of drowned landscape in Europe. "It's vital that parts of it should be considered as a potential World Heritage site," said Professor Vince Gaffney of the University of Birmingham, a leading authority on North Sea archaeology.

Professor Chris Stringer, Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum, said: "The quality and quantity of material from the North Sea shows what a rich resource it is for helping to reconstruct missing phases of our prehistory. The evidence should be preserved and studied. World heritage status would help in that process."

In the southern North Sea, Dutch prehistorians working alongside North Sea fishermen over the past decade have identified about 100 Neanderthal flint axes, 200 later Stone Age bone, antler and flint artefacts made by anatomically modern humans, and the remains of thousands of mammoths, woolly rhinos and other ice-age mammals.

Detailed archaeological research at the bottom of the North Sea would be likely to solve a host of Stone Age mysteries. It should help establish when Britain was recolonised by humans after a 100,000-year uninhabited period. It may also reveal for the first time the full technological capabilities of Neanderthal Man, because preservation on and in the sea bed is extremely good. Wooden, stone and bone implements have almost certainly survived.

Later this week, British and Dutch archaeologists will meet in Holland to formulate a joint program of North Sea research. German, Belgian, Danish and Norwegian archaeologists and oceanographers are likely to be included in a plan to map and investigate the North Sea's prehistoric landscapes in detail.

The discovery of the 28 Neanderthal axes was initially reported to the Dutch government archaeological agency, who passed the information via English Heritage to the gravel extraction firm Hanson Aggregates.

"This is the single most important archaeological find from the North Sea. We have stopped dredging that area and have created an exclusion zone to protect the site," said a senior Hanson geologist Robert Langman.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there