At a quarry near Swindon, the bones of five Mammoths were uncovered with Neanderthal stone tools, providing a fascinating glimpse into life in Britain during the ice age 200,000 years ago. Two adults, two juveniles, and an infant were found among the well-preserved remains. Their skeletons were discovered with a Neanderthal hand axe and small flint scrapers used to clean animal hides. The scientists discovered the remnants of brown bears, steppe bison, seeds, pollen, tiny beetle wings, and freshwater snail shells at this site because the items were so well preserved. They reveal the tale of the site’s surroundings hundreds of thousands of years ago when they were put together.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into the emergence of Neanderthals and what life was like for our ancient human predecessors and enormous species like Mammoths in the face of a fast changing climate. The excavation site is also the focus of a new Sir David Attenborough documentary, “Attenborough and the Graveyard,” which will air on the BBC on Thursday. DigVentures was joined at the site by Attenborough and Ben Garrod, an evolutionary biologist and professor of evolutionary biology and science engagement at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. DigVentures is a group of archaeologists who encourage the public to participate in archaeological digs and research projects.
Some steppe Mammoths grew to be about 13 feet (4 metres) tall at the shoulder, but the little bones of the one they discovered demonstrate how these creatures shrunk in size as the temperature grew colder. The hand axe and some remains were discovered at the Swindon quarry by fossil hunters Sally and Neville Hollingworth in 2017. The site was then excavated by DigVentures between 2019 and 2021. There’s still so much more to learn about this place. Collaboration between scientists, landowners, and hobbyists has been critical, and we are already considering how to continue the inquiry and how members of the public might be able to participate.