The Ice Age fossils of Norfolk
500,000 to 10,000 years ago
Over the last 500,000 years the British Isles and the rest of Europe have experienced repeated cycles of warm and cold climates. This has had a profound effect on the animals and plants living here. During severely cold periods ice sheets up to a kilometre thick covered much of the country. Many animals retreated to southern Europe where it was warmer. Other animals such as reindeer, bison, woolly mammoths and woolly rhinos thrived as they were adapted to living in cool climates. These cold periods lasted tens of thousands of years. When conditions improved during the occasional warmer but shorter “interglacial” periods the ice sheets melted and retreated, leaving behind the debris they had brought with them on their journey. The cold-adapted animals would retreat northwards as well. The British Isles were connected to Europe for much of this period so each time the conditions improved some animals were able to make their way back from their refuges in Southern Europe. During the warmest phases hyaenas, elephants, monkeys, pond tortoises and hippos lived in Norfolk. Fossils of all these warm-adapted and cold-adapted animals are regularly found in Norfolk. In fact the fossils and sediments preserved in Norfolk during the Ice Ages are the most significant in the British Isles for this time period and are amongst the very best Europe. Every year students come from far and wide to study them to learn about the interaction between climate and geology.