Researchers have discovered stone tools
in Norfolk which suggest early humans
arrived in Britain nearly a million
years ago - or even earlier.

The find, published in the journal Nature,
pushes back the timeline of the first
humans in what is now the UK by
several hundred thousand years.

Environmental data suggests that temperatures
were relatively cool so the early Britons may
have been among the first humans to use
controlled fire to keep warm. They may
also have been some of the earliest
humans to wear fur clothing.

At the time there was a land bridge connecting
what is now southern Britain with
continental Europe (below).

There are no early human remains, but the researchers
speculate that the most likely species was Homo
antecessor, more commonly - and possibly
appropriately - known as "Pioneer Man".

Remains of the species have been found in the
Atapuerca region of northern Spain, and dated
to 0.8-1.2 million years ago. So they could
well have been in Britain at around that
time, according to Professor Chris Stringer
of the Natural History Museum in London.

"If the climate was good and the land bridge
was there, there's no real reason they
couldn't have come here as far back
as 1.2 million years ago,"
he told BBC News.

Pioneer Man was much like our own species:
he walked upright, used tools and was a
hunter gatherer. But physically the species
looked rather different. They had a smaller
brain, strong brow ridges and big teeth,
with some primitive features such as
a flat face and no prominent
chin on the lower jaw.

Pioneer man was eventually wiped out by an
Ice Age. These occurred about every 100,000
years, and each time that happened Britain
was depopulated. As conditions became
more benign, a new group of humans arrived.
There were at least eight different waves
of people who died out before the
last wave which is the one
that survives today.

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