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Life and death in the hunting grounds of humans 200,000 years ago

Remains of a forest elephant uncovered in 1996.
Remains of a forest elephant uncovered in 1996 (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt).

The finds from the site Neumark-Nord once again brought an important palaeolithic find-complex into the collection of the State Museum in the 1990s. After their excavation between 1985 and 1996, the finds were stored by the excavator Prof. Dietrich Mania in the research base at Bilzlingsleben for initial assessment. The site Neumark-Nord was found to have had a richly varied environment. Light forests interspersed with bushes, grasses and a thick layer of small plants probably covered the lakeshore. Further afield there were wide and mostly open grasslands of feathergrass. This vegetation suited large herbivores very well, so it is no surprise that a significant part of the finds consists of skeletons of this kind of animal. In places, especially on the south and west shores, the lakeshore was carpeted with bones. It is curious that many of the skeletons are intact and the animals were evidently not killed by either humans or animals. Perhaps they fled into the mud of the shallow shore area and were unable to get free again. Large collections of forest elephant tusks were also found, and seem to have been collected together.

There were many signs of human activity around the lake. These showed interesting differences between the upper and lower parts of the shore: the zone nearest the lake seems to have been used for mostly butchery sites, yielding stone tools designed for this purpose. The upper shore area, in contrast, featured quite different kinds of remains. This was probably where the hunters camped, prepared and ate their food, made their tools and repaired them. One sign of this is animal bones that were smashed, as was often done to extract the marrow.