Did the first modern humans to settle in Britain look like this?

Did the first modern humans to settle in Britain look like this?

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Life-sized models of an early modern human resident of the British Isles and his Neanderthal counterpart will be the main talking points of a new paleoanthropology exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London.



They were created for the exhibition ‘Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story’ (to open in February 2014) by Dutch twin science artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis, who also produced reconstructions of Ötzi the Iceman and Neanderthals ‘Feldhofer‘ and ‘Wilma‘.

The middle-aged modern human and the younger Neanderthal were made in consultation with world-leading paleoanthropologist Professor Chris Stringer, who provided advice on skin colour, markings and hair styles based on archaeological and ancient DNA evidence.

British Neanderthal [left] and Modern Human [right] - image by Natural History Museum
British Neanderthal [left] and Modern Human [right] – image by Natural History Museum
The short and stocky Neanderthal was the longer term resident of the British Isles – the earliest Neanderthal remains were discovered in Wales have been dated to 230,000 years ago.  The taller, longer-limbed and darker-skinned modern human was a much more recent arrival into Britain from Africa – the earliest modern human remains were discovered in England and have been dated to around 42,000 years ago.

The exhibition will show visitors human activity in Britain long before the arrival of the Celts, Romans, Saxons and Vikings, back almost 1 million years and will, for the first time, bring together all significant fossil and archaeological finds from the British Isles.  It is the culmination of years of work by a 50-strong team of archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists from more than 20 research institutions, led by Professor Stringer.

It will show how Britain has swung frequently between ice-age and almost tropical climates, which saw it disconnect then reconnect to the European continent.  It saw hyenas in Yorkshire, mammoths in Kensington, lions and rhinos in Trafalgar Square, and hippos swimming in the Thames, some of which were hunted by our human ancestors.  Every temporary human foothold was swept away time and time again and there were likely 100,000 year gaps when humans completely deserted Britain before attempting to re-colonise.

Professor Stringer said: “What we can show is that there were at least 10 attempts to colonise Britain.  Nine of them failed — this is the 10th colonisation.

“From the point of view of science, this is a project I’ve been working on for 13 years.  In 2001, when we started, the oldest evidence of humans in Britain we had was 500,000 years and since then it’s almost doubled to 900,000.  On the early story this is certainly the biggest exhibition and the first time covering human evolution in Britain on this scale.”

“Some of the big questions have yet to be answered – did we meet and even interbreed with Neanderthals in Britain? Why did we outlive other human species? How will climate change affect our survival in the future? With further research, we hope to be able to fill in even more of the gaps and add new insights to our story.”

Source: Natural History Museum

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