Five Ice Age mammoths in exceptional preservation have been discovered in the Cotswolds, surprising archaeologists and paleontologists.
Huge remains of two adults, two juveniles, and an infant that roamed 200,000 years ago were found near Swindon, along with tools used by Neanderthals, who likely hunted these 10-ton beasts. More is expected to be found because only a fraction of the vast site, a gravel quarry, has been excavated.
Judging by the quality of the finds, the site is a goldmine. They range from other Ice Age giants, such as elk — twice the size of their descendants today, with 10-foot-wide antlers — to tiny creatures, notably dung beetles, which co-evolved with megafauna, using their droppings for food and shelter, and the freshwater snail, just right. Like the ones today. Even seeds, pollen, and fossils of plants, including extinct species, have been preserved at this site.
All of these will now provide new clues about how our primitive ancestors lived in the harsh conditions of Ice Age Britain, a prehistoric period of which little is known. The extraordinary discoveries will be explored in a BBC One documentary, Attenborough and Mammoth CemeteryAnd It will air on December 30, as Sir David Attenborough and evolutionary biologist Professor Ben Jarrod join archaeologists from DigVentures to photograph the fossils.
Jarrod said to Foreman: “This is one of the most important discoveries in British paleontology.” He said that while exotic mammoth bone often appears, finding such complete skeletons is “extremely rare”. “The place where this mammoth lies on Earth is exactly where he died a quarter of a million years ago – next to incredible things like stone tools and snails that they trampled under their feet.
“We have evidence of what the landscape looked like. We know what plants were growing there. The little things really reveal the context of these big, creative giants. It’s a glimpse into the past. This is very important in terms of our understanding of how climate change is particularly affecting environments and ecosystems.” and species.”
Lisa Westcott Wilkins of DigVentures, a social enterprise in the field of archaeology, said: “The thrill is not covering it. Other mammoths have been found in the UK but not in this state of conservation. They are in almost immaculate condition. You can’t eat them.”
She added: “Archaeological sites from this period are rare, and essential to understanding Neanderthal behavior across Britain and Europe. Why did so many mammoths die here? Could Neanderthals kill them? What can they tell us about life in Ice Age Britain? The range of evidence in This website is a unique opportunity to answer these questions.”
Researchers believe the mammoth remains and artefacts date back to about 220,000 years ago, when Britain was still occupied by Neanderthals during a warmer interglacial period known as MIS7. Cooling temperatures pushed Neanderthals south, and this site was then a fertile plain to which both animals and humans were attracted.
The earliest mammoths came from Africa about five million years ago. This particular species, the steppe mammoth, was the largest, and lasted from about 1.8 million years ago to about 200,000 years ago.
Jarrod, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of East Anglia, said the species weighed up to 15 tons, double or three times the weight of the African elephant: “This was the largest mammoth ever. By the time they were about to go, it had declined. Their size is down to 10 tons, which still seems like a lot. We believe this was an adaptation to changing environment, climate and resource availability. It was cooler at that time, and resources were decreasing, which led to the shrinking of the species. Moreover, there was undoubtedly Local pressure from hunting and competition from other species.”
Speculating why so many animals died at this site, he added, “Was there a massive ice flood that swept away these poor animals? Looking at the mud, it doesn’t look like it was there. It’s very uniform all the way through. Were they hunted by people?” Were Neanderthals crouching in a rush and chasing them in the water?Maybe.Surely there is a connection between the wonderful hand axe and other stone tools and these bones.Have they come across this group of dead mammoths and they have a huge buffet?
“Or was it really muddy? With elephants today, if a juvenile gets stuck, the adults often don’t leave the site. They will try to help them. This is very thick mud. I grew up near the seashore, near estuaries. You don’t need to be heavy. Too much to get stuck in the mud too quickly.”
Excavations have also revealed other evidence of Neanderthal activity at the site, including flint tools that could have been used to clean fresh hides. Some bones have signs of possible slaughter.
DigVentures is a team of archaeologists specializing in public outreach. They were called in after a Neanderthal hand ax was found with the initial discovery of mammoth remains by amateur fossil hunters Sally and Neville Hollingworth.
DigVentures has raised funding from Historic England, excavated the site and coordinated analysis and research. They hope to continue the excavation work once more money is raised. The site is now protected from fossil hunters by natural flooding.
Westcott Wilkins praised the Hills Group, the quarry owners, for allowing them for as long as they needed: “There are also early discussions about wanting to build a public outreach center where we can display some of the finds.” Other finds are expected to go to the Bristol Museum.
She noted that the mammoth was barely five meters below ground level and close to a busy road: “People are swaying, not realizing that their feet under their car are such a sight. It’s so surreal. We’re still trying to wrap our minds around what we’ve found.”