Hominins

In 1993 a human tibia was found at Boxgrove, from a sediment overlying freshwater deposits at Q1/B. In 1996 further hominin remains were found; two incisor teeth from a single individual recovered from the lower freshwater deposits at the site.  These three finds now join the Swanscombe skull fragments and teeth from the Pontnewydd cave as rare examples of early human remains from the British Isles. Undoubtedly, further hominin finds will be made at Boxgrove and other British sites. Until then the study of the Boxgrove finds alongside contemporary remains in Europe and Africa provide information on the lifestyle and adaptive significance of these early European colonisers.

The tibia (shin bone) is so far the only post-cranial element of Homo heidelbergensis to have been found in northern Europe. It is remarkably long (see right) and came from an adult individual who stood well over 1.8m tall. It is also extremely robust with an overall thickness comparable to that exhibited by the later Neanderthals. Overall the bone suggests that Boxgrove hominins were quite massively built, combining both height and muscular strength. This physique may have been used to great effect by the hominins in hunting and direct competition with other carnivores for carcasses.

However, the tibia demonstrates that hominins were not always top of the food chain at Boxgrove. Both articular ends of this tibia have been gnawed by a carnivore, possibly a wolf. While it is impossible to determine whether this individual was preyed upon or simply had his body scavenged after death, the influence of carnivores would suggest that body parts from this individual could have been spread over a large area.

The two incisors both belonged to the same individual and were found within a few metres of each other at Q1/B. The incisors exhibit the signs of severe periodontal (gum) disease and the traces of many small cutmarks across their surface. These cutmarks, which are identical to those made on butchered bone by flint tools, are probably not the signs of cannibalism but some repeated activity involving the use of flint tools close to the mouth. Similar marks are known from Neanderthal teeth and may relate to food processing activities where the mouth was employed as a third hand. 

One the basis of tooth and tibia morphology the Boxgrove specimens have been assigned to Homo heidelbergensis, the type fossil being the Mauer mandible from Germany (right). This species, found in both Africa and Europe during the Middle Pleistocene was the ancestor of both modern Homo sapiens and Neanderthal populations.

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