Swindon-based owners of mammoth graveyard welcomed broadcasting legend

By Barrie Hudson - 20 December 2021

  • Sir David Attenborough and Professor Ben Garrod with some of the remains found at the site

    Sir David Attenborough and Professor Ben Garrod with some of the remains found at the site

A Swindon firm welcomed David Attenborough and a BBC team after a mammoth graveyard was discovered on one of its sites.

Hills Quarry products owns the gravel pit in the Cotswold Water Park area where Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard was filmed.

The documentary will be broadcast by BBC 1 at 8pm on 30 December.

Laboratory dating of soil samples suggests the site dates back to around 215,000 years ago - a time deep in the Ice Ages that we know very little about. 

A BBC spokesperson said: "Four years ago a couple walking round a freshly dug gravel pit just outside Swindon noticed something unusual protruding from the mud. It was the top of a huge fossilised leg bone of what turned out to be a mammoth. 

"Sally and Neville Hollingworth, both keen amateur fossil hunters, had stumbled across the discovery of a lifetime - a mammoth graveyard in the old prehistoric riverbed of the Thames.

"They returned to dig up more mammoth bones and tusks, but what made their finds even more exciting was Sally’s discovery of a stone ‘hand axe’ made by an early human. 

"Unlike most mammoth discoveries that date back tens of thousands of years, Sally and Neville’s finds appear to be hundreds of thousands of years old - and it could offer an extremely rare glimpse of life deep in the Ice Ages."

Peter Andrew, Group Director for Hills Quarry Products, said: “Hills has a long-standing relationship with Sally and Neville Hollingworth who made the initial discovery, and we provided substantial resources towards making sure that the area remained accessible during the various phases of excavation.

“Having worked in the Cotswold Waterpark area for many years, we are very familiar with archaeological finds, but this latest discovery has turned out to be quite unique.   

"We have been amazed by the interest in the project and the results of the research, which provides an insight into Britain’s Ice Age environment and the world as it was lived in by our closest human relatives. 

“We are extremely proud of the contribution we have made to bring this great story to life.  It was an honour and privilege to host Sir David Attenborough during the filming of the documentary, and we cannot wait to the see the final programme to be aired on BBC on 30 December.”

The programme sees Sir David, Professor Ben Garrod and a team of investigators work at the site.

Among the things they try to find out is whether the animals might have been killed by Neanderthals. 

As the team finds more stone tools lying side by side with more mammoth bones, they realise this could be a once-in-a-generation discovery, offering a unique window into prehistoric Britain.

The BBC spokesperson added: "When Sir David Attenborough heard about their remarkable finds he was keen to see them for himself. Since he was a boy he has been smitten with the lure of hunting fossils. 

"From the moment of arrival at Sally and Neville’s home in Swindon, it is hard to know who was more excited, David, or Sally and Neville.

"Afterwards they join biologist Prof Ben Garrod and a team of archaeologists and palaeontologists as they carefully excavate the quarry where the bones were found. The site raises many questions: Why were the mammoths here? How did they die? Could the ancient humans have killed them? Or was there some kind of catastrophic event?

"Sir David and Ben meet with leading experts in the fields of evolution, both human and mammoth, to grasp a greater understanding of our relationship with this iconic ice-age giant."

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