Neanderthals had a taste for mammoth steaks

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The Independent Online

Neanderthal Britons ate mammoth steak, a remarkable archaeological discovery has shown. Excavations at a gravel pit near Lynford in Norfolk found evidence suggesting that, 50,000 years ago, mammoth meat was a substantial part of the diet of the now- extinct human species Homo neanderthal-ensis, popularly known as Neanderthal Man.

Neanderthal Britons ate mammoth steak, a remarkable archaeological discovery has shown. Excavations at a gravel pit near Lynford in Norfolk found evidence suggesting that, 50,000 years ago, mammoth meat was a substantial part of the diet of the now- extinct human species Homo neanderthal-ensis, popularly known as Neanderthal Man.

The excavations have yielded 12 beautifully made flint axes, assorted bits of four woolly mammoth, a woolly rhino and a reindeer. The dig has also produced evidence suggesting the Neanderthals were treating the mammoth not just as a food source, but might also have used the animal's huge bones and tusks, possibly for building shelters.

Many of the tusks appear to have been put together in a small stack by the Neanderthals, and the leg bones of the giant animals were probably hauled away.

Archaeological evidence from Russia and Ukraine shows that in areas where timber was unavailable – similar to Ice Age Britain – prehistoric humans used mammoth tusks and bones to build primitive shelters. The Norfolk evidence is the first in western Europe to suggest Neanderthal Man might have been doing the same on this side of the continent.

The Norfolk Neanderthals also seem to have used stone hammers to smash open reindeer bones for the highly nutritious marrow. The fragments of woolly mammoth found belonged to a young adult, two medium-sized male or female adults and a massive male with tusks 2.5 metres (8ft) long.

The excavation, directed by Dr Bill Boismier of Norfolk County Council's archaeology unit, shows the Neanderthals had a variety of tools to butcher mammoths and other animals. Heavy, pointed axes were probably used on the larger beasts, and smaller axes with longer cutting edges on smaller creatures. But whether the mammoths died naturally and were scavenged, or whether they were killed by the Neanderthals, is unclear.

The site – the best preserved of its period found in Britain – dates from 25,000 years before Neanderthal Man became extinct and when the country was a treeless expanse of steppe tundra. Cool summers and ultra-cold winters ensured the sub-soil remained constantly frozen, in a permafrost state.

But Homo neanderthalensis were our cousins, not our ancestors. Our species ( Homo sapiens) and Homo neanderthalensis are descended from a common ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis, which flourished in Europe and Africa 500,000 years ago.

Dr Boismier said: "The site is of national and international importance for understanding the lifestyle of this extinct species of humanity." The excavation is the first to be financed by the gravel industry via the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund.

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