Why Were The Neanderthals So Fond Of The Jersey Caves?

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Why Were The Neanderthals So Fond Of The Jersey Caves?
Why Were The Neanderthals So Fond Of The Jersey Caves?

New research confirms that Neanderthals have returned to the caves on the Jersey coast in the English Channel (Channel Islands) over 200,000 years, despite dramatic changes in climate and landscape.

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A. Shaw et al. / Antiquity, 2016

Archaeologists at the University of Southampton and their colleagues at the British Museum have reexamined the site of La Cotte de St. Brelade, taking a fresh look at mammoth bones and other excavations from the 1970s. The finds cover the period from 240 to 40 thousand years ago.

Scientists have compared the type of raw materials used by ancient people for tools with detailed geological maps of the seabed to determine which sources of stone were preferred by the Neanderthals, and from this basis draw conclusions about how the ancient people used the site. In particular, experts found out how far away the ancient Europeans brought blanks for tools into the cave. It is assumed that if people used only raw materials brought from afar and were not interested in the resources near the cave, then their visits to the site were short-lived. If people began to make tools from local raw materials, it means that they have chosen this place for a longer stay.

Study author Dr. Andy Shaw in collaboration with the University of Southampton Archeology Research Center says that “La Cotta site appears to have been a very special place for Neanderthals. Many generations continued to return here. We analyze the stone tools they left on their way to trace how the Neanderthals moved through the territories now hidden by the waters of the English Channel. 180 thousand years ago, when there was a sharp cooling and glaciation, a huge territory was opened to the Neanderthals, which is now inaccessible."

Now Jersey is an island, but during the peaks of the Ice Age, the sea level dropped by tens of meters, and Jersey turned into a hill that connected to the mainland. At the same time, flint deposits were exposed, now hidden under water. However, even during the warming in the late Pleistocene, the sea level was 5-10 meters lower than the current one, so Jersey remained part of the mainland.

The study of the La Cotta sediments shows how the local climate changed - from temperate to severely cold, but the Neanderthals persisted in visiting this place and bringing tools here. Only in the most severe periods, when the area turned into a frosty tundra steppe, people disappeared - in the sediments this is expressed in sterile layers.

Previous specialists were interested in specific layers in which many mammoth bones were found. The current study is long term; it is planned to study how the Neanderthals used the site and its surroundings for 200 thousand years.

Scientists tracked how the raw materials and the nature of the artifacts found in several layers of the cave's sediments changed. In the lower layer, corresponding to a temperate climate, there are many tools and burnt animal bones. It is important that the tools were made from the flint they brought; the Neanderthals did not try to make tools from local materials - probably because they used the site only sporadically, for a short rest between long hunting trips. In colder periods, the number of finds decreases, and judging by the appearance of the tools themselves, they were exploited for a long time and intensively. In addition, instruments from local raw materials (brought from a distance of a maximum of several kilometers) appear and then begin to prevail. This means that people settled in the cave thoroughly, allowing themselves only short excursions - probably, the situation in Jersey was really extreme.

Dr. Beccy Scott of the British Museum states: “We are extremely interested in finding out why this site was so important to Neanderthals. You can already distinguish their example routes in Jersey. But it is difficult to understand what exactly drew them here. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the entire island was very clearly visible from afar - like a lighthouse - or the Neanderthals retained the memory that they could find refuge there, and passed on this knowledge to the next generations. " (By the way, according to Russian archaeologists, the Neanderthals of the Russian Plain also liked to "set up camp" on a promontory - a hill near the river).

Dr Matt Pope of the Institute of Archeology at University College London adds that “La Cott de Saint Brelade is probably the most important Neanderthal site in northern Europe and possibly one of the last Neanderthals in this region. With the help of new technologies, we were able to reconstruct the surroundings of La Cotte in such details that were not previously available to researchers. In our project, we practically "placed" Neanderthals in an ancient landscape and showed how much the terrain and climate have changed since then."

Professor Clive Gamble, head of the study, claims this research project connects the past with the present. “We are not the only people who have successfully resisted environmental change. Let's hope that they will not be the last either,”he concludes.

Sources of

Why did Neanderthals Keep Returning to the Same Jersey Caves?

Andrew Shaw et al. The archeology of persistent places: the Palaeolithic case of La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey, Antiquity, Volume 90, Issue 354, December 2016, pp. 1437-1453

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