for National Geographic News
Stone tools found on the coast of Britain suggest early humans first colonized northern Europe much earlier than previously known.
Ancient flints discovered in cliffs at Pakefield in eastern England show humans lived in northern Europe some 700,000 years ago, according to researchers.
They say the find indicates that humans journeyed into Britain 200,000 years earlier than experts had suspected.
Flints typical of crafted tools used for butchering meat and cutting wood were found in sediments along with the remains of hippos, elephants, and other exotic animals.
The long-extinct wildlife dates the flints back to a much warmer period when Britain was still connected to continental Europe via a land bridge.
The discovery is described this week in the journal Nature.
"The early humans who made those tools were living in [England] in a Mediterranean-style climate, alongside creatures such as hippo, elephant, rhino, hyena, and lion," said study co-author Chris Stringer, an anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London.
The stone tools were dated using various lines of evidence, including the bones of an extinct species of prehistoric water vole called Mimomys.
Human artifacts have never before been found with the remains of this small mammal, the researchers say
Ancient snails were also used to date the Stone Age cache through a method called amino acid geochronology.
The technique measures the extent of protein breakdown in animal matter to gauge how old it is.
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