British People Are 800,000 Years OldS

Paleontologists have discovered evidence of human habitation in Britain dating back almost a million years—possibly the "oldest uncontested site of human occupation of Europe." How did they figure this all out? Thanks to hyena poop, naturally.

Scientists used to think that ancient humans were huge wusses, who just could not deal with the cold and preferred to stay in Mediterranean-type climates and play volleyball all day. But the discovery of 78 flint tools some 800,000 years old in an eroding cliff in Norfolk, England seems to indicate that some early humans were hardier than that, writes the New York Times:

The discovery of 78 flint tools, more than 800,000 years old, shows that early humans, thought to survive only in warm, Mediterranean-style climates, could penetrate much colder regions and survive with a kit of crude tools....

Archaic humans have been documented in the Mediterranean area at this time, but their presence so far north is unexpected, said Ian Tattersall, an anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The new find "does tell us that hominids could tackle boreal forest environments with what seem to be pretty crude tool kits and it confirms they got that far north amazingly early," he said.

It would be the oldest site of human occupation that far north, and possibly the oldest site in all of Europe. Though there weren't any actual remains, the scientists are speculating that the species in question was one with a "smaller brain, strong brow ridges and big teeth" called Homo antecessor, also known as "pioneer man" or "Wayne Rooney." That up there is a photograph of the early humans, taken using the time-traveling camera known as "art."

The coolest part of the story is obviously the part involving poop—specifically, fossilized Hyena poop. See, ancient humans were not the boss of nature the way us modern humans are, and instead of getting food at McDonald's or wherever, they were forced to scavenge bones left behind by "giant hyenas." And why were the "giant hyenas" helpful, New York Times?

Just above the layer where the flints were found, near the Norfolk village of Happisburgh (pronounced HAZE-bura) lay a hyena coprolite, the paleontologist's term for a fossilized piece of dung. [Ed. THEY MEAN ANCIENT HYENA SHIT] Pollen grains from the coprolite showed the area was once a grassland that covered a flood plain.

Here is a picture of primordial excreta:

British People Are 800,000 Years OldS

The Takeaway: Using hyena feces, researchers have discovered that British people are ancient cavemen. Science!

[BBC; NYT; pics via AP and British Museum]