Scientists in the Netherlands have discovered a fragment of a Neanderthal man’s skull in the North Sea, dating back around 60,000 years. The Leiden-based boffins believe the find to be the first human remains ever dredged from the sea bed. Chemical isotope readings have shown the man to have been carniverous – and the area would certainly been rife with potential dinners in his day. For most of the past 500,000 years, the North Sea’s level has been sustantially lower, with many parts forming a sort of archipelago stretching from the British Isles to the European mainland.
‘Only a Matter of Time’
Thousands of mammal remains have been found in the region before, many of which date to the Cromerian period of between 866,000 and 478,000 years ago. Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, believes that, due to the large number of animals in the area, it was ‘only a matter of time’ until human equivalents were discovered.
“It would be great if we could get the technology one day to go down and search (in the sea floor) where we can obtain the dating, associated materials and other information we would get if we were excavating on land,” he added.
Neanderthal man is our ancestoral cousin, appearing on the European continent as long as 400,000 years ago – from Iberia to Siberia. Our own species, homo sapiens, evolved first in Africa. Scientists believe that the study of the North Sea bed is key to understanding the migratory systems of prehistoric Britain and Europe.”We have Neanderthals at Lynford (in Norfolk) 60,000 years ago, though we only have stone tools. This specimen might indeed be the kind of Neanderthal that was crossing into Norfolk around that time. It will help us understand our British sequence when we can much more precisely map what’s under the North Sea,” Professor Stringer argued.
Image by Erich Ferdinand.