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The First Britons

The journal Nature revealed on 14th December 2005 that early humans colonised the British Isles as much as 200,000 years earlier than had previously been thought, and the evidence for this is right here in East Anglia.

The front cover of the prestigious journal Nature proclaimed humans settled in the British Isles perhaps 200,000 years earlier than had previously been thought. Evidence of early human activity in the form of flint tools has recently been found in ancient deposits on the coast at Pakefield. A local collector and archaeologist who made the first stunning finds were soon joined by a team of professional archaeologists and palaeontologists from universities and museums around the UK, including Norwich Castle, to undertake controlled excavations in relative secrecy to obtain the maximum amount of data to help them build up a picture of the ancient environment. The dating techniques reveal that this site is about 700,000 years old, making it the oldest known archaeological site this side of the Alps!

To coincide with the announcement, December 2005's edition of the popular archaeology magazine ‘British Archaeology’ is released with a 10-page colour article describing not only the research undertaken at Pakefield but also the work that has been ongoing at another important site, here in Norfolk. Until now, the oldest site in the British Isles was thought to be preserved in the Forest Bed at Happisburgh. Dated to about 550,000 years old, this site has produced a much richer suite of archaeological evidence than Pakefield, but was very difficult to date precisely until recently. The finds include sharp flints, bones with butchery marks and the oldest hand-axe ever found in the whole of North West Europe, which is on display in Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth. However, it now seems that the remains from Pakefield are substantially older.

The discovery and excavation of these internationally important sites follows hot on the heels of other major prehistoric discoveries made in the last few years such as one of the most important Neanderthal sites in Europe that was unearthed at Lynford in Thetford Forest in 2002 (a mere 60,000 years old), and the excavation of giant hippo remains in a quarry at Norton Subcourse in 2004. Prior to that were the internationally important discoveries of the 4,000 year old Holme Timber Circle in 1998 and of course the excavation in 1995 of the West Runton Elephant (some of which is now on display in the new geology gallery of the refurbished Cromer Museum).

See also:

The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project