Five ice-age mammoths unearthed in Cotswolds after 220,000 years

Archaeologists and palaeontologists were astonished by the discovery of five ice-age mammoths in the Cotswolds.

Neanderthals are thought to have hunted the 10-ton beasts that were found near Swindon, along with tools used to do so. More are expected to be found because only a small portion of the site has been excavated.

The site is a great place to find stuff. They range from giants such as elks, which are twice the size of their descendants today, to tiny creatures like dung beetles, which co-evolved with megafauna, and freshwater snails. The site has preserved seeds, pollen and plant fossils.

An artist's impression of a mammoth. Beth Zaiken is pictured.

New clues will be offered into how our Neanderthal ancestors lived in the harsh conditions of ice-age Britain, a period of prehistory about which little is known. Sir David Attenborough and evolutionary biologist Professor Ben Garrod will film the excavation of the Mammoth Graveyard in a documentary to be aired on 30 December.

Garrod told the Observer that this is one of the most important discoveries. He said that finding complete skeletons is very rare. The place where the mammoths died a quarter of a million years ago is next to amazing things like stone tools and snails.

There is evidence of what the landscape was like. We know what plants were growing there. The little things are showing the context of these giants. It is a glimpse back in time. That is very important in terms of understanding how climate change affects environments, flora and fauna.

Lisa Westcott Wilkins is a social enterprise that works in archaeology. There are other mammoths in the UK, but not in this state of preservation. They are in good condition. You can not take it in.

The mammoth bones are being excavated. There is a photograph of DigVentures.

She said that archaeological sites from this period are critical for understanding Neanderthal behavior. Why did so many mammoths die? Is it possible that Neanderthals killed them? What can they tell us about life in Britain? The range of evidence at this site gives us a unique chance to address these questions.

The researchers think that the mammoth remains and artifacts are from the time when Britain was occupied by Neanderthals. Neanderthals had been forced south by falling temperatures, and this site was a fertile place where both animals and humans were drawn.

About five million years ago, the earliest mammoths came from Africa. The Steppe mammoth was the largest of them and lasted from about 180,000 years ago to about 200,000 years ago.

The species weighed up to 15 tonnes, twice or three times the weight of an African elephant, according to Garrod. By the time they were about to leave, they had dropped to 10 tons. We think it was an adaptation to the change in environment, climate and resources. The resources were getting sparser and that drove the species to shrink. Local pressure from hunting and competition from other species would have been a factor.

He wondered if there was a big flood that washed the animals down. The mud doesn't look like there was. It is very uniform all the way down. Were they hunted by people? Neanderthals were crouching down in the rushes and chasing them into the water. Possibly. There is an association between a wonderful hand-axe and stone tools. Did they chance upon this bunch of dead mammoths?

Some of the excavated bones have butchery marks. There is a photograph of DigVentures.

Was it really muddy? If a juvenile gets stuck, the adults won't leave the site. They will try to help them. The mud is very thick. You don't need to be very heavy to get stuck in mud very quickly, I have grown up near the seaside.

flint tools that would have been used for cleaning hides were found in the excavations. Some of the bones have marks on them.

A team of archaeologists are known for their expertise in public outreach. They were called in after a Neanderthal's hand-axe was found, which was the initial discovery of mammoth remains.

The site was dug and the analysis and research is being coordinated by DigVentures. Once more funds are raised, they hope to continue the excavations. Natural flooding protects the site from fossil hunters.

The Hills Group, the quarry owners, have been praised by Westcott Wilkins for allowing them as long as they need. The Bristol Museum is expected to get other finds.

She noted that the mammoths were close to a busy road and were five metres below ground level. It is very strange. We are still trying to comprehend what we found.