One of the United Kingdom’s most important Paleolithic sites is at risk of plunder or destruction without better legal protection, prominent British archaeologists and paleontologists warn.
In 2021, experts digging in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, found a group of “extraordinarily” preserved ice-age mammoths, including one infant and two young adults, along with tools used by Neanderthals who very likely hunted members of the herd. More mammoths were expected to be uncovered within the vast gravel quarry, however, the quarry owner has recently rescinded access to the site, leaving the archaeologists to bemoan the potential for damage to the artifacts.
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The site was first investigated by DigVentures, a group of archaeologists who sometimes invite the public to participate in their excavations. At the time of the discovery, in December 2021, Lisa Westcott Wilkins, cofounder of DigVentures, told the Guardian: “Exciting doesn’t cover it. Other mammoths have been found in the UK but not in this state of preservation. They’re in near-pristine condition. You can’t take it in.”
Westcott Wilkins added that the mammoth remains and artifacts date to about 220,000 years ago. “Archaeological sites from this period are rare, and critical for understanding Neanderthal behavior across Britain and Europe,” she said. “Why did so many mammoths die here? Could Neanderthals have killed them? What can they tell us about life in ice-age Britain? The range of evidence at this site gives us a unique chance to address these questions.”
Now, the Guardian reports, Hills Quarry Products told DigVentures via email that access to the site “will no longer be available” and that they are “formally requesting” the archaeologists return their finds. There is no legislation in place to ensure further finds are excavated properly; as the law stands, Hills Quarry Products can even sell the bones.
Westcott Wilkins said, “We have five major universities as part of our research consortium because the site is so complex and difficult. That’s the expertise you need in order to do any justice to this.”