"Substantial body fur" kept Palaeolithic humans warm while they danced around campfires in Kent

By Ben Miller | 15 December 2015

Prehistoric people hunted game and sang and danced around open campfires, says an archaeologist in Kent

A photo of a man carrying out an excavation on a wide expanse of countryside
New discoveries at Baker's Hole, in Kent, have emphasised its archaeological importance© Dr Francis Wenban-Smith
Prehistoric people had fur to keep them warm and engaged in raucous fireside rituals near the modern site of Ebbsfleet International railway station, say archaeologists who will use ancient snail shells and vole bones to determine the Kent climate around 250,000 years ago.

Dr Francis Wenban-Smith, of the University of Southampton, has found “vital clues” from prehistory at Baker’s Hole, a former chalk quarry now owned by Tarmac. He is currently examining soil sediment from the Middle Palaeolithic grounds, which were investigated during the 1930s, 1960s and 1990s.

A photo of a man carrying out an excavation on a wide expanse of countryside
Researchers hope the site will reveal more about the nature of the climate 250,000 to 200,000 years ago and how it affected Neanderthals colonising the area at the time© Dr Francis Wenban-Smith
“These biological remains can tell us if the climate was warm or cold, if the land was wooded or marshy and give us general clues about the environment and local landscape the Neanderthals were living in,” says Wenban-Smith, discussing a site placed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register after concerns about its degrading archaeology were raised in 2013.

“These early humans at Baker’s Hole didn't live in caves or build shelters. They would most likely have slept in the open and had substantial body fur to keep them warm.

“They would have hunted game as a band and probably had complex social structures and behaviour, including singing and dancing around the campfire.

“It’s believed Neanderthals moved into the UK from northern Europe at the start of warmer periods that regularly occurred over the last 250,000 years, and then were unable to survive in colder spells.

“It's hoped Baker’s Hole can give us many more clues about these climate-driven cycles of migration and local extinction.”

Last year the university and landowners worked with Historic England Natural England to clear 50 years’ vegetation growth from the site, offering further research opportunities. Wenban-Smith believes he is now involved in a race against time to evade the threat posed by plant roots, animal burrows and erosion.

“We need to collect as much information as we can before these particular deposits degrade and are lost forever,” he warns.

“Establishing a new management plan for the area is a key part of this process.”

Baker’s Hole has the distinction of being one of only a few non-cave Palaeolithic sites on the list of projected archaeological monuments. Stone tools, mammoth teeth and deer, bear and lion fossils have previously been found there.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three places to discover Palaeolithic Britain in

Hull and East Riding Museum
Galleries featuring objects from the Palaeolithic (250,000- 8,300 BC), Mesolithic (8,300- 4,000 BC) and Neolithic (4,000- 2,000 BC) time periods. Many of the finds displayed in the Prehistoric Galleries were originally collected by JR Mortimer, one of the most important amateur archaeologists of the 19th century. These include stone tools of the earliest human settlers.

Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
The Petrie Museum's collection - numbering more than 80,000 objects - covers the full range of Egypt's complex history from Palaeolithic to Islamic times, and includes artefacts from all types of archaeological sites in Egypt. It is largely based on the artefact collections gathered by the pioneering archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie on his many excavations, and includes his own detailed documentation.

Torquay Museum
Home to the second oldest anatomically modern human fossil in Europe, along with a large collection of stone tools and animal remains from the nearby Kents Cavern - one of the most important prehistoric sites in Europe.
Latest comment: >Make a comment
Wonderful work. I do think they will have had some kind of dwelling, even if just small hollowed spaces. I was watching a Documentary about the Germans who surrendered to the American troops after WW2. They were kept in open fields for months. They dug small holes to try and stay warm. Even dogs do this.
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