Researchers refute idea that Neanderthals drove mammoths over cliff in Jersey

March 4, 2014 by Bob Yirka, report
The Reconstruction of the Funeral of Homo neanderthalensis. Captured in the Hannover Zoo. (Via Wikipedia)

( —For half a century, archaeologists have been puzzling over a mass of woolly rhino and mammoth bones found at the base of a cliff on the island of Jersey in the English Channel—most have assumed they were the result of a mass execution by Neanderthals driving them over the cliff. Now a new team of British researchers has found evidence to suggest the bones were carried there instead. In their paper published in the journal Antiquity, the researchers claim their investigation shows that it would have been nearly impossible for Neanderthals to drive them to the cliff, much less get them to run off of it.

Today, Jersey is a British Crown dependency—an island off the coast of Normandy. But 200,000 years ago, were lower—so low that parts of the site, now known as LaCotte de St Brelade were above the water line. To get a better handle on how the mass of bones wound up at the sight, the researchers obtained a survey of the seabed as it stretches away from the cliff. In analyzing the terrain, the researchers noted that in order for mammoths or other beasts to be driven over the cliff, they would have first had to have been driven down into a dip, then back up again before arriving at the edge of the cliff—the terrain itself would have been very rocky as well, suggesting that a herd of mammoths would have dispersed long before reaching the cliff, and thus could not have all plunged to their deaths together.

The researchers also noted that some of the excavated bones near the bottom of the pile showed signs of being burnt, which suggests the bones were used by the Neanderthals after death. The researchers contend that rather than driving the mammoths over the cliff en masse, they instead hunted them individually and carried their bones to the site where they were found—to eat the meat off them, and to use the bones for burning or other purposes. Many other Neanderthal artifacts have been found at the site, suggesting it's a place where they lived on and off for many years, before finally moving away as the climate grew too cold for them.

Explore further: Ancient giant sloth bones suggest humans were in Americas far earlier than thought

More information: A new view from La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey, Antiquity,

Did Neanderthal hunters drive mammoth herds over cliffs in mass kills? Excavations at La Cotte de St Brelade in the 1960s and 1970s uncovered heaps of mammoth bones, interpreted as evidence of intentional hunting drives. New study of this Middle Palaeolithic coastal site, however, indicates a very different landscape to the featureless coastal plain that was previously envisaged. Reconsideration of the bone heaps themselves further undermines the 'mass kill' hypothesis, suggesting that these were simply the final accumulations of bone at the site, undisturbed and preserved in situ when the return to a cold climate blanketed them in wind-blown loess.

Related Stories

Neanderthal home made of mammoth bones discovered in Ukraine

December 19, 2011

( -- Up till recently, most researchers studying Neanderthals had assumed they were simple wanderers, hiding out in caves when the weather got bad. Now however, the discovery of the underpinnings of a house built ...

Possible mammoth cemetery found in Serbia

June 29, 2012

Serbian archaeologists have discovered the remains of at least seven mammoths at a dig at an open pit mine, which could turn out to be a mammoth cemetery, lead archaeologist Miomir Korac told AFP Friday.

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Cornish barrow site

April 20, 2018

An Archaeologist at The Australian National University (ANU) has discovered a prehistoric Bronze-Age barrow, or burial mound, on a hill in Cornwall and is about to start excavating the untouched site which overlooks the English ...

New ancestor of modern sea turtles found in Alabama

April 18, 2018

A sea turtle discovered in Alabama is a new species from the Late Cretaceous epoch, according to a study published April 18, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Drew Gentry from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, ...

New study improves 'crowd wisdom' estimates

April 18, 2018

In 1907, a statistician named Francis Galton recorded the entries from a weight-judging competition as people guessed the weight of an ox. Galton analyzed hundreds of estimates and found that while individual guesses varied ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.