Flint tools found in U.K. add to age of history

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Ancient tools found in Britain show humans lived in northern Europe 200,000 years earlier than was previously known, scientists announced yesterday.

The 32 black flint artifacts, found in river sediments in Pakefield, England, date back 700,000 years and represent the earliest unequivocal evidence for human presence north of the Alps, said the scientists, whose discovery is detailed in the science journal Nature.

The finding dashes the long-held theory that humans did not migrate north from the relatively warm climates of the Mediterranean region until half a million years ago, they said.

"The discovery that early humans could have existed this far north this long ago was startling," said Chris Stringer, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum and one of four British scientists who took part in the study.

"Now that we know this, we can search for the remains of these people, knowing that we may find them. Their arrival in northern Europe could have happened even earlier," he said at a news conference in London.

Pakefield is a coastal village 190 kilometres northeast of London.

Jim Rose, a professor at the University of London who also was involved in the study, said England 700,000 years ago was still connected to the European mainland and enjoyed periods of balmy weather.

The artifacts, suggest the early humans didn't colonize northern areas of Europe, but merely expanded their migratory patterns there when the weather permitted, the scientists said.

Before that discovery, the earliest traces of humans in Europe north of the Alps were dated to about 500,000 years ago, and included flint artifacts and even some human remains that were discovered in Bosgrove on the southern coast of England.

The earliest traces of human presence in southern Europe are at least 800,000 years old.

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