Category Archives: FRANCE

Ancient footprints show Neanderthals may have been taller than thought

Ancient footprints show Neanderthals may have been taller than thought

We know it as archeologists have seen hundreds of Neanderthals footprints in France — most of them laid by children. They walked and maybe played along the beach in the prehistoric world ;

Do we discover that Neanderthals were more like modern humans than previously thought by following their footsteps?  Have we been underestimated our ancient cousins?

The 257 footprints from Neanderthal found by archaeologists from Le Rozel, on the coast of northwest France, Manche, Normandy, and what is surprising to the scientists is that the majority of the prints are made by children.

The excavation of a footprint on the Le Rozel archeological site

In 1856, in a limestone quarry in the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf, Germany, a set of ancient bones were discovered including an oval-shaped skull with a low, receding forehead and distinct brow ridges.

Scientists initially believed belonged to a deformed human but after several weeks the penny dropped that they had discovered an early human ancestor and that species was named  Homo neanderthalensis.

Neanderthal ancestors left Africa before modern humans, as far back as 500,000 years ago, and they were in Europe when our ancestors walked the same journey about 70,000 years ago.

It is thought Neanderthals eventually disappeared around 40,000 years ago. But now, archaeologists in Le Rozel, on the coast of northwest France, in the department of Manche, Normandy, have discovered 257 footprints from Neanderthals and what surprises the scientists is that most of the prints were made by children.

Footprints of A Lost Species

This year, a scientific paper was published in Quaternary Science Reviews explaining that previous to Le Rozel, only one set of 62,000-year-old Neanderthal footprints had ever been found, in Romania.

Then, in 2018, an array of fossilized footprints was discovered in an ancient sand dune in Gibraltar, of the Iberian Peninsula, which was thought to have been left by one of the “last Neanderthals ever to walk the Earth.”

Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) footprint in the Natural History Museum in Prague.

Coastal erosion first exposed Le Rozel in France in 1967 and the site has been excavated every three months since 2012. The discovery of these “extremely rare footprints” is by far the largest group of hominin fossil footprints found to date. And while some of the footprints were found in isolated patches, some were found in a walking sequence, with one footprint after another.

The new paper, published in PNAS by Dr. Jérémy Duveau of the Museum of National History in Paris and colleagues, says that no hominin species other than Neanderthals are known to have been living in the area of Le Rozel at the time.

This was supported by the types of stone tools they recovered which according to the paper were “typical of Neanderthals of the time”. The scientists concluded that this particular group contained at least four Neanderthals, but more likely up to 13, to count for all the footprints.

Were Neanderthals Taller Than We Think?

The researchers say the first and foremost indicator that these prints were Neanderthal was the shape of the foot, which is flatter and “less gracile” than ours. Of the 257 recorded footprints, 88 were complete and ranged from 11.4 to 28.7 centimeters (4.5 to 11.3 inches) in length, indicating the Neanderthals ranged from 74 centimeters in height (2 feet, 5 inches tall) to 185 centimeters (6 feet, 1 inch) – children and adults.

The partial skeleton of a Neanderthal child.

The scientists found the average height within this group of Neanderthals was 175 centimeters, (5 feet, 7 inches) compared with modern Homo sapiens averaging about 5 feet, 9 inches. These measurements, according to a report in New Scientist, match the average height of a man in the USA today suggesting Neanderthals could have been “taller than previous evidence suggests.”

Crabs on A Beach Leave Many Prints

The measured sizes of the footprints established that “more than half the occupants were shorter than 130 centimeters (4 feet, 3 inches) tall” suggesting that between 80 to 90 percent of the individuals were children, with a 2-year-old’s print measuring only 11.4 centimeters (4.5 inches) in length.

However, caution must be extended to the suggested group size of 13 based on the footprint count for, as any of you that have children will know, when left to their own devices, they can be like beach crabs tootling to-and-fro with the tide.

In practice, one child leaves many prints for everyone left by an adult, but accounting for this and other variables, the team of researchers believe their conclusion that children made up most of the group “is reasonable”.

These new results were compared to another Neanderthal group that had lived in the El Sidrón cave system in northern Spain in Normandy about 48,000 years ago, where researchers conducted mitochondrial genetic analysis and found seven adults, three adolescents, two children, and one infant—which is clearly a far higher proportion of adults to children.

British-French Interconector Brings Crashed WW2 Plane Back to Light

Lost WW2 Aircraft lifted from the sea after more than 75 years

Specialist divers and archeologists finished an operation this week to recover the wreckage of a 1943 Fairey Barracuda Torpedo Bomber (thought to be No. BV739) – just in time for D-Day’s 75th anniversary.

The three-seater plane, part of 810 Squadron Royal Navy Air Station, based at Lee-On-Solent is believed to have got into difficulty shortly after taking off for its test flight before crashing 500m from the coast in Portsmouth.

It was found by National Grid engineers last summer during a seabed survey ahead of the construction of new subsea electricity cable between England and France.

The cable, called an interconnector, will be buried in the seabed and will stretch for 240km between Fareham, Portsmouth and Normandy, France and deliver cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy for UK consumers. The UK government has targeted 9.5 GW of additional interconnector capacity in its Clean Growth Strategy. This is because interconnectors are recognised as a key tool in enabling the flow of excess zero carbon energy from where it is generated where it is needed most.

The Barracuda wreckage is the only one to have ever been found in one piece and the last remaining aircraft of its kind in the UK.

Boats on water – Retrieval boat and dive barge for the operation 

David Luetchford, Head of IFA2 for National Grid said: “Interconnectors are about bringing us closer to a zero-carbon future, but we must also respect the past. An important part of our job is to always have a thorough and sympathetic approach to archaeological finds.

Over the course of the project we’ve inspected over 1,000 targets of interest, many of which were found to be unexploded ordnance, not unusual given the history of this location. However, to have found a 1943 Fairey Barracuda torpedo bomber is incredible and such a key piece of British history.

It’s not every day you get the chance to play a role in an operation like this and it is very lucky to have found the plane in such a small search area. We surveyed a 180-meter-wide area along the cable route and if we had chosen a slightly different route, there is a good chance the plane would never have been found.”

Work to fully retrieve the plane is expected to take around three weeks in total as experts from Wessex Archaeology are carefully excavating the area around the aircraft and removing large amounts of silt and clay.

So far, one of the wings has successfully been lifted out of the waters and work on the second is currently underway. The remainder of the plane will be recovered by lifting it in sections over the coming days.

Wessex Archaeology lead archaeologist Euan McNeil said: “Our team has been working closely with all those involved to ensure that any risks to heritage assets on the seafloor are mitigated. This aircraft is a rare find and a fantastic opportunity to understand more about a piece of wartime technology.

“We have been undertaking the excavation under a licence from the MoD, and it has taken careful planning to ensure that we lift the remains and any associated material which may have been scattered as it sank – without causing its condition to deteriorate significantly. This has involved excavating the silt around the plane and sieving it for artefacts, then carefully dividing the remaining structure into manageable sections for lifting.

“The recovery of the Fairey Barracuda will aid an ongoing Fleet Air Arm Museum project to recreate what will be the world’s only complete example of this type of aircraft. This will give us a chance to examine a unique lost piece of aviation history”

Once retrieved, the parts will be taken to the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset where it will be studied and used to rebuild a full-size Barracuda in the site’s aircraft hangar.

David Morris, Curator at The National Museum of the Royal Navy has been working on the project for several years and visited four other Barracuda crash sites to retrieve suitable parts.

He said: “This is an incredible find and a wonderful piece of British history. There are very few blueprints of the Barracuda plane design available so this wreckage will be studied to enable us to see how the plane segments fitted together and how we can use some of the parts we currently have.

“This find is a huge step forward for our project and we can’t wait to get it back to the museum and share our findings with the public.”

The plane’s pilot has been named as SUB LNT DJ Williams who managed to escape the crash and survived WW2.

How do you build a medieval castle from scratch?

World’s Biggest Archaeology Experiment – Building a Medieval Castle from Scratch

Construction crews in a picturesque forest in the Burgundy region of France are undertaking their own version of time travel. They are working backward to painstakingly build a medieval castle from scratch.

The Guedelon Castle project is being called “the world’s biggest archaeology experiment.” Crews use 13th-century materials and construction techniques, often learning as they go. To make the experience even more authentic, the team of about 50 master builders even don medieval attire as they go about their tasks.

The project started with another castle–at least two, if you want to get right down to it. Castle-lover Michel Guyot had bought the red brick Chateau de Saint-Fargeau –a castle with history that includes Joan of Arc and the French Revolution–and was restoring it.

As that work proceeded, he was shocked to learn that, like an absorbed twin, the current brick castle was hiding a smaller stone castle with its walls. The castle had gone through a number of transformations over the decades. Unfortunately, some of them were by fire.

Reconstruction project. 

As Guyot read the report on his current castle by architectural and fortification experts he had brought in, one line stood out: “Reconstruction Saint-Fargeau castle would be an amazing project.”Guyot was hooked on the idea. But if they proceeded, where to put it? It turns out, he didn’t have to look far.

The nearby Guedelon forest, about 10 miles away, had all the raw materials they needed: water, timber, earth, sand, clay, and an old rock quarry for the massive blocks of stone they would need.

Guedelon medieval castle arrow slit

The work began in 1997. When it is finished sometime in the 2020s, workers will have created an authentic version of a 13th century castle.

Visitor come from near and far to witness the transformation. The castle’s architectural features include curtain walls, great roof timbers, rib-vaulted guardrooms, and ever-evolving murals. The newly constructed castle initially was based on the Saint-Fargeau castle, but the design was later adjusted to reflect other old castles in the area.

The project is more than just an eccentric whim. Its creation also is based on giving back in many ways. One of those ways is through tourism. Guided tours of the castle are offered and a medieval-style restaurant is open to feed them. The site is now a major draw, with annual visits in the hundreds of thousands.

Horse carriage driven by people in front of the castle being created since 1997 using 13th-century building techniques.

The Guedelon Castle is also a major education enterprise, with tours aimed at groups wanting to learn about medieval times, in particular the working conditions and techniques. And those working there continually expand the knowledge base as they hone their craft through hands-on experimental archaeology. The construction team includes quarrymen, stonemasons, woodcutters, carpenters, and rope makers.

Among the reasons the castle is popular with visitors is that they have face-to-face access with these craftsmen and are welcome to ask about anything related to the work.

Some people want to take a further step and get their own hands dirty. For those who speak French and are in good health, Guedelon Castle offers a variety of working holidays and options. And because the castle is a certified heritage skills training center, that work could be valuable experience for someone wanting to continue to bring the past to life.

Guédelon uses local material from an abandoned quarry and surrounding woods.

The project is ever-evolving. One of the newest additions, the mint, is in the castle courtyard. The goal here is to learn about the making of alloys and minting coins, medieval-style of course.

With at least five years of work still ahead of them, there’s still plenty to see as the castle continues to rise. In 2018, plans are to hoist more than 250 hand-hewn beams onto the chapel tower and assemble the pepperpot roof timbers. Work will continue on the twin towers of the gatehouse, and masons plan to finish the parapet of the castle’s Pigeon-Loft Tower.