Humans' Early Arrival in Britain
for BBC News on July 16, 2010
Researchers have discovered stone tools in Norfolk, UK, that suggest that early humans arrived in Britain nearly a million years ago - or even earlier.
The find, published in the journal Nature, pushes back the arrival of the first humans in what is now the UK by several hundred thousand years.
Environmental data suggests that temperatures were relatively cool.
This raises the possibility that these early Britons may have been among the first humans to use fire to keep warm.
They may also have been some of the earliest humans to wear fur clothing.
The discoveries were made in Happisburgh, in the north of Norfolk. At the time there was a land bridge connecting what is now southern Britain with continental Europe.
There are no early human remains, but the researchers speculate that the most likely species was Homo antecessor, more commonly - and possibly appropriately - known as "Pioneer Man".
Remains of the species have been found in the Atapuerca region of northern Spain, and dated to 0.8-1.2 million years ago. So the species could well have been in Britain at around that time, according to Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London.
"If the climate was good and the land bridge was there, there's no real reason they couldn't have come (to Britain) as far back as 1.2 million years ago," he told BBC News.
Pioneer Man was much like our own species in that it walked upright, used tools and was a hunter gatherer.
But physically the species looked rather different. It had a smaller brain, strong brow ridges and big teeth, with some primitive features such as a flat face and no prominent chin on the lower jaw.
Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10531419