Four archaeologists excavating a trench.
Archaeologists excavating mammoth bones at the Hills Quarry Products site in Swindon © Digventures
Archaeologists excavating mammoth bones at the Hills Quarry Products site in Swindon © Digventures

Historic England Funds Excavation that Uncovers ‘Mammoth Graveyard’

Archaeologists funded by Historic England have discovered a ‘mammoth graveyard’ with Neanderthal stone tools near Swindon.

A new David Attenborough documentary 'Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard' explores the evidence unearthed during the dig that Neanderthals in Ice Age Britain may have killed the five mammoths found.

Discovered in a quarry near Swindon, the remains of the Ice Age beasts include two adults, two juveniles, and one infant. Alongside them were stone tools called ‘scrapers’ made by Neanderthals for cleaning fresh hides.

Research to understand why so many mammoths were found in one place, and whether they were hunted or scavenged is ongoing in what experts are calling Britain’s most significant Ice Age discovery in recent years.

The discoveries are explored in a new BBC documentary ‘Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard’, with Sir David Attenborough and evolutionary biologist Professor Ben Garrod joining DigVentures on site to film the excavations.

DigVentures began investigating the site after two passionate fossil-hunters, Sally and Neville Hollingworth, spotted a Neanderthal hand axe along with an impressive number of mammoth remains at the Swindon quarry.

The unusually high preservation of the site means that the team has also been able to recover crucial environmental and dating evidence. Some of the bones are now being examined for evidence of butchery, and further work is being planned at the site.

The work was funded by Historic England and supported by Dr Keith Wilkinson of ARCA at the University of Winchester, the site’s landowners Hills Group Quarry Products, as well as a wider specialist team from several UK research institutions.

For more information about the dig and related events visit digventures.com

This represents one of Britain’s most significant Ice Age discoveries in recent years. We have provided over £100,000 to fund the excavations, which have resulted in the discovery of mammoth skeletons, stone age tools, and have provided valuable further insight into Britain’s Ice Age environment.

The findings have enormous value for understanding the human occupation of Britain, and the delicate environmental evidence recovered will also help us understand it in the context of past climate change. Through these finds and the research that will follow, we look forward to further light being shed on life in Britain 200,000 years ago.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive Historic England

Finding mammoth bones is always extraordinary, but finding ones that are so old and well preserved, and in such close proximity to Neanderthal stone tools is exceptional. Words can’t quite capture the thrill of seeing a mammoth tusk still in the ground, or the feeling of standing in the middle of a site that has the potential to change how we see our closest human relatives and the Ice Age megafauna they shared their world with.

Turning such an exciting discovery into a BBC documentary has made this a once in a lifetime experience, especially working with Sir David Attenborough. It has given us the chance to see the site through his eyes, and to reveal the extraordinary science that goes into each step of discovery” she added.

There is still so much more to be uncovered here. The collaboration between scientists, landowners, and enthusiasts has been crucial, and we are already looking at how to continue the investigations and are exploring different ways that members of the public might be able to be part of it” she concluded.

Lisa Westcott Wilkins, Co-founder DigVentures
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