News of Neandertal tools from an Early Upper Palaeolithic site called Beedings, north east of Pulborough in West Sussex, United Kingdom is emerging. So far the BBC News is the only major news source running this, but smaller local news papers such as the West Sussex Gazette have also published news on this subject.
Team leader Matthew Pope of Archaeology South East has restarted excavations at the Beedings site. Beedings was first excavated in 1900, over one hundred years ago. Then, over 2,300 stone tools were uncovered as foundations were being dug for what is now the Beedings Castle (which is apparently for sale). Last year Roger Jacobi of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project published an analysis of these tools in a paper titled, “A Collection of Early Upper Palaeolithic Artefacts from Beedings, near Pulborough, West Sussex.” From what I can tell, the publishing journal, unfortunately, doesn’t have a working system for people to access the article.
Jacobi understood the tools showed strong resemblances to other tools from northern Europe dating to between 35,000 and 42,000 years ago, putting this site right in the Late Paleolithic. This meant either an early colonization date of Britain by anatomically modern humans or an occupation by technologically advanced and late surviving Neandertals.
The diversity and type of the tools from Beedings is more extensive than any other found in the region. They are mostly all long refined blades or cores where these blades were knapped from. Such tools come from technologically advanced cultures, with an understanding of where to find the raw material, and how to finely knap them.
Because of this advanced tool kit, Pope considers the Neandertals of this area were thriving and far from struggling to survive — which has been proposed by many as one of the reasons why Neandertals went bye-bye. Pope comments,
“Unlike earlier, more typical Neandertal tools these were made with long, straight blades – blades which were then turned into a variety of bone and hide processing implements, as well as lethal spear points…
…We also discovered older, more typical Neanderthal tools, deeper in the fissure. Clearly, Neanderthal hunters were drawn to the hill over a long period time…
The impression they give is of a population in complete command of both landscape and natural raw materials with a flourishing technology – not a people on the edge of extinction.”
Barney Sloane, Head of Historic Environment Commissions at English Heritage added, supporting Pope and Jacobi,
“The tools at Beedings could equally be the signature of pioneer populations of modern humans, or traces of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy the region.
This study offers a rare chance to answer some crucial questions about just how technologically advanced Neanderthals were, and how they compare with our own species.”
How does Pope know for sure that these tools are made by Neandertals? We know there were probably eight major incursions into Britain by humans, and the British people of today are essentially new arrivals – products only of the last influx 12,000 years, indicating the other seven migrations failed… In other words those inhabitants went bye-bye too. Stone tools from a quarry at Lynford, near Norwich indicate Neandertals occupied Britain some 60,000 years ago.
So the hype spun by Pope, and the BBC, you know the enthusiasm that the tools from Beddings prove Neandertals were sophisticated and in ‘ complete command of both landscape and natural raw materials,’ isn’t entirely novel. Neandertals had to be in command of the landscape and materials to cross either the North Sea or the English Channel from mainland Europe and enter Britan. Furthermore they had to have been in command of fashioning functional tools to take down large mammals, like mammoths and woolly rhinoceros — two prey species associated with Neandertal sites in the United Kingdom, which they survived off of for thousands of years.
This reminds me of this other hyped up Neandertal finding which I wrote about in February. Then, the press was going crazy over how some isotope analysis (creative methodology but not a very enlightening result) proved Neandertals were mobile. Again, hardly a novel concept… but I’m wondering why everyone still considers Neandertals as clueless cavemen? We’re far past that understanding. We know their tool set has been ‘advanced,’ they migrated all over Eurasia and the Middle East and had bodies and brains much like ours — if not larger. Given the wealth of archaeological and morphological evidence, it is time to stop spinning this pop-culture representation of Neandertals as dumb bipedal apes.
One last thing, you maybe interested in this 2 minute news video where Matthew Pope simply explains hypes up the tools to the BBC News.