16 Aug 2020

William sent in this link to a story that has been fairly popular across the internet as well as in media sources with a strong archaeology section. At ... which is a reference to the 500ky Boxgrove site in Sussex. It was excavated back in the 1980s and now the finds have been sifted through once more by archaeologists, who have come up with a  nice story. Perhaps it was due to lockdown and they were not able to get out into the fresh air. The news this August is that they have identified a bone tool from a horse - and a prehistoric banqueting site. Pride of place is the horse in which a crowd of Heidelbergensis, predecessors of the Neanderthals, dined on. Near the remains of the horse there were small piles of stone flakes - so some tool making had been going on. The flakes are the residue of the tool making but the tools themselves are missing, presumably carried off site. The bone tool is from a horse shin - making use of the bones after eating the animal from head to feet. Boxgrove is a site that has been featured in a lot of books, such as Chris Stringer's 'Homo Britannicus'. The authors of the study have managed to tweak out another variation on the same topic, filling in some gaps in knowledge. Apart from the small piles of stone flakes, which indicate human activity, we have a new storyline that concentrates on single horse. It displays evidence of butchery (cut marks) but the interesting thing is that shortly after the banquet and the feasting the site was covered in a fine silt and clay, and subsequently preserved as in instant burial. It is thought the tide  came  in but in what looks like a low energy manner. In other words, it is not evidence of a tsunami wave or violent storm. It was a gentle inundation of the site. How might that happen? It was enough to bury the site which was not discovered until 500,000 years later (with a lot of comings and goings in between, such as advances and retractions of the English Channel, periglacial conditions, and bitter frosts). A small shift in the axis of rotation is capable of changing the geoid of the earth, and the position of the oceans and sea scapes. It would involve the tide coming in gently, but further inland than previously, and not receding. In other parts of the world, at the same point in time, the opposite situation would occur. The tide would go out further than previously - and fail to return, exposing former sea bed. Whether this occurred or not is unknown but it is one way to explain a gentle inundation, and burial in silts and clays. Human activity has been preserved.

See also ... and ... where we are told meticulous research by University College, London, archaeologists, led to a new book - 'The Home Butchery Site' published by UCL (via Spoilhheap Publications). This appears to be the source of the story rather than a study paper in a journal. Various other tidbits are added. All the bones of the horse (apart from those chosen to make tools) were broken down probably with stone hammers so that marrow and liquid grease could be extracted from them, presumably by sucking it out. The horse was completely processed, it is alleged, with fat, marrow, internal organs and even the contents of the stomach removed to become part of the banquet. This is an amazing story derived from an archaeological site. The research has nothing to do with lockdown, by the way, as the site has been carefully reconstructed since 1994 (when excavations at the site came to an end). The later research has come together over the last 25 years but lockdown may have encouraged the authors to add a spurt to the production of their book. The banquet, it is estimated, involved a group of 30 to 40 individuals, which would include children. The horse, in addition, provided material for tools, the bit that captured the press attention.