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Landscape Mysteries - Programme 3: Britain Before The Ice

Updated Monday, 24th October 2005

Aubrey Manning visits the Gower Peninsula in South Wales to investigate a 29,000 year old skeleton.

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Aubrey attempts to journey back nearly 30,000 years, to a Britain before the last great ice sheets covered the country at the height of the Ice Age, and conjure up the landscape of this lost world.

He begins at Paviland Cave on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, the site of an amazing discovery in the 19th Century. Here the remains of a skeleton were surrounded by ancient artefacts: bone tools, beautifully crafted flints, marine shells and ivory. It turned out that the bones belonged to a young man who died around 29,000 years ago.

From caves nearby, Aubrey discovers other clues to the landscape this man would have inhabited. Stalactites can be analysed to give an idea of the climate, while remains of long-buried insects can help paint a detailed picture of the cold tundra environment. The caves in the area also contain animal bones which reveal what animals lived in this tundra landscape.

Travelling to Bradford University, Aubrey discovers that they are now able to analyse the human remains found in the Paviland cave to reveal details of what the people were eating 29,000 years ago. As well as meat, fish was an important part of their diet – which makes them different from the carnivorous Neanderthals who died out at about that time. The greater adaptability of modern humans may well have given them an advantage as the climate grew colder.

Finally, evidence from Europe of burials like the one at Paviland also reveals the kind of simple shelters that people were building at this time. It all adds up to a clear snapshot of a lost world, and the people who inhabited it 29,000 years ago. A complex and mobile society whose world would completely disappear as the ice sheets spread south.

 

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