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Press release

Funding secured to further understanding of ancient human occupation of Britain

The Leverhulme Trust enables phase two of the AHOB project with a £999,000 grant

The second phase of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project (AHOB) starts today and is now funded to run until 2010, thanks to a grant from the Leverhulme Trust. The project, which started in October 2001, has made groundbreaking discoveries dating human occupation of Britain back as far as 700,000 years. Phase two of the AHOB project (AHOB2) will continue to add data on the earliest human colonisations of Britain, but the project will also carry out more comparative studies in continental Europe.

The first year of the AHOB2 project will include an attempt to recover DNA from a fragment of human jawbone found at Kent's Cavern in Devon. This will help determine whether it comes from a modern human as previously believed, or a late Neanderthal. With a newly estimated date of 35,000 years, this fossil lies right at the time when modern humans could have first encountered the Neanderthals in western Europe.

East Anglia will remain a major focus of work for AHOB2. The team will be looking for evidence of even older occupation than that at Pakefield, near Lowestoft, where archaeological evidence of the oldest known Britons was found. The team hopes to discover more about Britain's earliest colonisers, perhaps even including their fossil remains.

'The Leverhulme Trustees have been greatly encouraged both by the progress made by the AHOB project in unravelling this first element in Britain's history, and by the diversity of expertise brought to the task,' said Professor Sir Richard Brook, Director of the Leverhulme Trust. 'The sustenance of the research momentum, therefore, enjoys their fullest support.'

AHOB brought together archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists who aimed to build a calendar of human presence and absence in Britain during the Pleistocene (1.8 million to 12,000 years ago). The AHOB2 team will add a new member from the Netherlands, Wil Roebroeks, from the Department of Archaeology at Leiden University, who brings valuable expertise on early human occupation and early human behaviour in Europe to the project.

Senior collaborating specialists involved in AHOB2

· Director of Programme
Chris Stringer, Palaeoanthropologist, Natural History Museum

· Principal collaborating specialists
Nick Ashton, Senior Curator Prehistoric Europe, The British Museum
Ian Candy, Lecturer in Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London
Andrew Currant, Curator of Quaternary Mammals, Natural History Museum
Simon Lewis, Lecturer in Quaternary Geography, Queen Mary, University of London
P. David Polly, Department of Geological Sciences, Indiana University, Indiana, USA
Wil Roebroeks, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, the Netherlands
James Rose, Professor of Geography, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway,
University of London
Danielle Schreve, Lecturer, Centre for Quaternary Research, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London
Rebecca Scott, Postdoctoral Researcher in Palaeolithic Archaeology, Durham University
Mark White, Lecturer in Palaeolithic Archaeology, Durham University

· Project archaeologist
Roger Jacobi, Palaeolithic specialist, the Natural History Museum and The British Museum
· Project faunal specialist
Simon Parfitt, fossil mammal specialist, the Natural History Museum and Institute of Archaeology, University College London (UCL)
· Project research assistants
Silvia Bello, Natural History Museum
Mark Lewis, Natural History Museum

Additionally, there are a number of associate members for the project, who will collaborate closely with the AHOB2 team.

Notes for editors

  • The Leverhulme Trust is one of the largest all-subjects providers of research funding in the UK, distributing funds of some £30 million every year. For information about all the schemes the Leverhulme Trust funds, please visit
  • Royal Holloway, University of London is globally recognised as one of the UK's leading teaching and research institutions - ranking among the top 10 elite research-intensive UK universities (in the most recent Research Assessment Exercise) and 5th in a league table of UK universities in the 2005 'National Survey of Student Satisfaction'. Located in 135 acres of parkland and with easy access to central London, the College offers challenging and innovative courses for a vibrant community of 7,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students from more than 120 countries.  Royal Holloway also has strong links with business and the local community.  Through its Research & Enterprise team the College offers high-quality support for start-up businesses, actively promotes entrepreneurship and collaboration, and is a key contributor to the regional economy.
  • Winner of the 2006 Independent award for the UK's favourite museum, gallery or heritage attraction at the Museum and Heritage Awards for Excellence, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries.

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