Letter

Nature 438, 1008-1012 (15 December 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature04227; Received 3 June 2005; Accepted 12 September 2005

The earliest record of human activity in northern Europe

Simon A. Parfitt1,2, René W. Barendregt3, Marzia Breda4, Ian Candy5,6, Matthew J. Collins7, G. Russell Coope6,8, Paul Durbidge9, Mike H. Field10, Jonathan R. Lee6,11, Adrian M. Lister12, Robert Mutch9, Kirsty E. H. Penkman7, Richard C. Preece13, James Rose6, Christopher B. Stringer2,6, Robert Symmons2, John E. Whittaker2, John J. Wymer14 & Anthony J. Stuart12,15

  1. Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London WC1H 0PY, UK
  2. Department of Palaeontology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK
  3. University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta TK1 3M4, Canada
  4. Dipartimento di Geologia, Paleontologia e Geofisica, University of Padova, Via Giotto 1, 35100 Padova, Italy
  5. Department of Geography, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU, UK
  6. Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham TW20 0EX, UK
  7. BioArch, Biology S Block, University of York, PO Box 373, York YO10 5YW, UK
  8. Department of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK
  9. Lowestoft Museum, Oulton Broad, Lowestoft NR33 9JR, UK
  10. Church Cottage, Church Street, Fenny Compton, Warwickshire CV47 2YE, UK
  11. British Geological Survey, Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5GG, UK
  12. Department of Biology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  13. Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK
  14. 17 Duke Street, Bildeston, Ipswich IP7 7EW, UK
  15. University of Durham School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham DH1 3LE, UK

Correspondence to: Anthony J. Stuart12,15 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to A.J.S. (Email: tony@megafauna.freeserve.co.uk).

The colonization of Eurasia by early humans is a key event after their spread out of Africa, but the nature, timing and ecological context of the earliest human occupation of northwest Europe is uncertain and has been the subject of intense debate1. The southern Caucasus was occupied about 1.8 million years (Myr) ago2, whereas human remains from Atapuerca-TD6, Spain (more than 780 kyr ago)3 and Ceprano, Italy (about 800 kyr ago)4 show that early Homo had dispersed to the Mediterranean hinterland before the Brunhes–Matuyama magnetic polarity reversal (780 kyr ago). Until now, the earliest uncontested artefacts from northern Europe were much younger, suggesting that humans were unable to colonize northern latitudes until about 500 kyr ago5, 6. Here we report flint artefacts from the Cromer Forest-bed Formation at Pakefield (52° N), Suffolk, UK, from an interglacial sequence yielding a diverse range of plant and animal fossils. Event and lithostratigraphy, palaeomagnetism, amino acid geochronology and biostratigraphy indicate that the artefacts date to the early part of the Brunhes Chron (about 700 kyr ago) and thus represent the earliest unequivocal evidence for human presence north of the Alps.

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