When elephants roamed Yorkshire
24 August 2010
Exotic animals more usually associated with Africa once
roamed Yorkshire, according to a new report.
Archaeologists and experts on ancient
environments from seven institutions, coordinated by Dr Peter
Halkon, lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Hull, have
drawn together evidence which shows that elephants, rhinos and
lions once lived in a now-vanished landscape over 250,000 years
Above: Peter Halkon (left)
and Tim Mott (right) examine the tooth of the straight tusked
Amongst the most northerly finds of
their type in the UK, these discoveries provide remarkable evidence
of how the climate and landscape of the region changed through
time. Although some of the extinct animal remains were found as
long ago as 1829, it is only now that they have been placed within
their ancient environment. Most of the bones were associated with
an ancient and now-buried river system, also discovered through
this research, which ran from the Yorkshire Wolds in the north down
to the river Humber.
This river was large, as coring shows that it laid down deposits
over nine metres deep. A flint hand axe found near Hotham, which
may be one of the North of England’s oldest tools, provides
evidence for early human activity on the Yorkshire Wolds
overlooking this river valley between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago
in the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age).
The discovery of mammoth bones along the same valley
demonstrates a dramatic climate change to the much colder
conditions of Ice Ages between 70,000 and 10,000 years ago.
As the climate started to warm around 10,000 years ago in the
Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) the River Foulness was created from a
series of freshwater lakes, exploited by the hunter foragers in a
similar way to the famous site of Star Carr in North Yorkshire.
The distribution of flint tools found in the landscape show how
humans adapted to a sudden rise in sea levels, which created a
large tidal inlet. This event occurred somewhere between 5,000 and
4,000BC, pushing the Humber coastline almost 10km further to the
north of its present position. The concentration of polished stone
and flint axe heads clustered along the river and around this
inlet, some from as far away as North Wales, the Lake District and
Northumberland, provides evidence of woodland clearance and
management by the first farmers of the Neolithic (New Stone Age)
between 4,000 and 2500 BC. Flint tools, grinding stones, pottery
and animal bones show that people settled here and farmed.
During the Bronze Age, falling sea levels led to a drying of the
landscape the growth of woodland, managed by the users of the first
metal tools to make boats such as those found at North Ferriby.
Several large hoards of bronze axe heads have also been found in
the study area.
Between 800 and 500 BC this freshwater forested landscape was
transformed yet again by a further rapid rise in sea level
recreating the estuarine tidal inlet, with marine conditions
extending 12km north of the present coastline.
Dr Halkon said: “Our research demonstrates dramatic landscape
changes in one relatively small region, showing how humans and
animals adapted to changing conditions. We strongly believe that
there is much more to be found, especially under the glacial
deposits, and we hope that our initial findings will attract more
interest and funding for further study.
“A key to the whole project has been the wonderful interest of
shown by farmers, landowners and other members of the public – for
example the hand axe was reported to Hull Museum where it is now on
display, by Mr S. Foster and a large number of artefacts were found
by Tim Mott, who also discovered the elephant tooth during his work
as a gamekeeper”.
The research paper, entitled Change and Continuity within the
prehistoric landscape of the Foulness valley has been published in
the East Riding Archaeologist Vol. 12.
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