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Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Monday, 14 September 2009 15:58 UK
Digging deeper into Kents Cavern
By Jo Irving
BBC Devon

Small but perfectly formed Ice Age hyena teeth
Small but perfectly formed Ice Age hyena teeth

Woolly rhino, hyenas and deer are just some of the Ice Age animals which have been discovered at Kents Cavern.

The Torquay tourist attraction has revealed more teeth and bones then archaeologists can shake a stick at.

With the help of a couple of university experts the dig team hope to find out if Neanderthals became extinct because of Homo Sapiens.

Dr Paul Pettitt said: "It'll dramatically improve our understanding of life 50,000 years ago."

The latest finds come after an intensive two-week dig at the site.

Senior archaeology lecturer at the University of Sheffield Dr Pettitt believes it's still early days for the excavation.

"We've already unearthed excellently preserved fossils and a spearpoint of an antler from the Ice Age."

The antler piece or 'sagaie' is the UK's first complete reindeer antler and dates back 15,000 years.

All this might be mumbo-jumbo to many people but for Dr Pettitt and his fellow diggers the news is extremely exciting.

The excavation team in one of the caves
The excavation team in one of the caves

Hyena teeth

"Kents Cavern is one of the country's richest and most beautiful archives of the Ice Age", said Dr Pettitt, "and one of the world's most famous sites."

Some of the things which have been discovered during the privately-funded dig have been sent away to be cleaned and radiocarbon dated.

"The hyena teeth and bones we found could date back as early as 25,000 years," said Dr Pettitt.

Kents Cavern, the oldest recognisable human dwelling, is also a scheduled monument and the only way this dig could take place was for the experts to get special permission from the Government.

The discoveries have already helped excavators place humans on the earth for longer than previously thought with an estimated time of 6,000 years.

A small piece of woolly rhino
A small piece of woolly rhino

'Nearest millimetre'

But what the archaeology team really want to find out is the connection between the death of Neanderthals and the beginning of Homo Sapiens.

Dr Pattitt said: "What we want to know now is did Homo Sapiens wipe out Neanderthals like they did in other parts of Europe or did Neanderthals become extinct before Homo Sapiens came along.

"Nothing is lost", he said, "we record everything in three dimensions to the nearest millimetre."

Now it is only a matter of time to see what the results reveal, but thanks to the positive support from English Heritage, the team will be back next year bringing Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens a little closer together.


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