Archaeologists say they have discovered the earliest known bone tools in European archaeological records.
The images come from the famous Boxgrove site in West Sussex, which was excavated in the 1980s and 90s.
The bone tools came from a horse, which people ordered on the spot for its meat.
Stone flakes in piles around the animal suggest at least eight individuals were making large match knives for the job.
Researchers also found evidence that other people were present nearby — perhaps elderly or older members of a community — shedding light on the social structure of our ancient relatives.
There is nothing like Boxgrove elsewhere in Britain: during excavations, archaeologists discovered hundreds of stone tools, along with animal bones, dating back 500,000 years.
They were made from species Homo heidelbergensis, a potential ancestor to modern humans and Neanderthals.
Researchers have found a shin bone belonging to one of them – it is the oldest human bone known from Britain.
Project leader Dr Matthew Pope, of the UCL Institute of Archeology, said: “This was an extremely rare opportunity to examine a site almost as it was left behind by an extinct population, as they had gathered to process it thoroughly. the corpses of a dead horse on the edge of a coastal swamp.
“Extraordinarily, we have been able to get as close as possible to be able to witness the minute-by-minute movement and behaviors of a single visible close group of early people: a community of people, young and old, working together in a collaborative and highly social way ”.
Half a million years ago, the area was an inter-tidal swamp in what would have been Britain’s southern coastline. There was a rock that was starting to degrade, producing good rocks to knock on – the process of creating stone tools. The filter from the sea was also built here, created a pasture area.
“Grassland means herbivore and herbivore means food,” Dr. Papa explained.
Dr Papa added that it was still unclear how the horse ended up in this landscape.
“Horses are very sociable animals and it is reasonable to assume that they were part of a herd, either drawn into the forest for fresh water, or for seaweed or salt lick. For whatever reason, this horse – isolated from the herd – ends up dying there, “said Dr. Pope for BBC News.
“Maybe it was fired – although we have no evidence of it – and it sat right next to an intertidal mess. The tide was quite low, so it is possible for people to get caught around it. But right after that, a high wave comes. and it begins to cover the sieve with fine dust, dust and clay. It’s so low energy that everything is left as it was when the hominins left the sieve. “
The horse provided more than food. Analysis of the bones by Simon Parfitt, of the Institute of Archeology at University College London (UCL), and Dr Silvia Bello, of the Natural History Museum in London, revealed that some bones had been used as tools called trailers.
Simon Parfitt said: “These are some of the earliest non-stone tools found in the archaeological record of human evolution. “
Dr Bello added: “The finding provides evidence that early human cultures understood the properties of various organic materials and how tools could be made to improve the production of other tools.
She explained that it “provides further evidence that the early human population in Boxgrove was cognitive, social and culturally sophisticated.”
Researchers believe the other members of the group – which could number between 30 and 40 – were close by. They could have joined the hunt to slaughter the body of the horses.
This may explain how it was so completely shredded: Boxgrove people even destroyed bones to get into the marrow and fluid fats.
Dr Papa said that, far from being an activity for a handful of individuals at a hunting party, the slaughter could be a very social event for these ancient people.
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