Boxgrove Man

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In 1993, the tibia (shin bone) of an ancient man was discovered during an archaeological excavation at Boxgrove, near Chichester in West Sussex, England. The tibia had been gnawed on both ends by a carnivorous animal, most likely a wolf.

Two years later the right and left lower incisors, possibly belonging to the same individual, were discovered one meter deeper within the same excavation site.

It is believed that Boxgrove Man was extraordinarily large and robust; from measurements of the unearthed tibia he is believed to have been nearly six feet tall, and the teeth measure nearly 1.5 times the length of those of modern man. Both the teeth are heavily worn, indicating that the diet would have included tough and gritty material, possibly including sand from a nearby beach.

Dating methods based on known evolution and extinctions of mammals in correlation with changes in climate have placed the bone and teeth at around 500,000 years old, and in existence in the Middle Pleistocene period. Many large animal bones belonging to species long extinct in the area have been discovered, including rhinoceros, elephant, lion, wolf, giant deer, cave bear, horse, hyena, and wild boar. The variety of animals living in the area was far greater than it is in the present day. It is also significant to note that many of the animal bones were defaced with scratches and other marks which have been interpreted as the result of butchery activities by contemporary hominids.

Determining the characteristics of the physical environment of the Boxgrove site 500,000 years ago is a difficult task, but by examination of the fossilized remains of mollusks and crustaceans, one can infer a landscape covered by grasslands with intermittent brackish and freshwater lagoons. The nearby chalk cliffs may have been over 200 feet high at the time, having since been totally eroded by glaciation, wind, and other destructive environmental factors.

Seams of flint would have erupted from those chalk cliffs, and would have provided an explanation for the presence of man at Boxgrove. He is known to have used flint for skinning and removing flesh from the carcasses of slain animals. Flint was formed into scrapers and other implements with the assistance of soft clubs formed from the femoral bones and antlers of giant deer, many of which have been discovered along with over 150 flint handaxes.

The Boxgrove discoveries immediately predate the most recent Anglian glaciation, dated at between 524,000 and 478,000 years ago. The site is believed to have had a climate very similar to that of the present day, even though the land area of Britain was still attached to the European mainland. The discoveries at the Boxgrove site place it among the oldest in Europe bearing definitive evidence of human habitation, and expose the presence of a hominid civilization in Britain which was much more complex and much older than previously thought.

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