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Winter in Ice Age Europe was not for the faint-hearted. There has been a long-running debate between experts as to whether humans migrated out of Northern Europe during the savage winters, or did they brave the extreme cold. Recent discoveries at a very important Paleolithic site in Poland appear to show that Ice Age hunters were active on the North European Plain in the depths of winter throughout the Ice Age! This is an extraordinary new understanding of Ice Age hunters in the one season, when we assumed they migrated south to warmer lands.
Archaeologists from Exeter University, England have been investigating animal remains from the Paleolithic Krakow Spadzista site in Poland, which led to a new understanding of Ice Age hunters. According the Exeter University press release , this “was one of the most northerly sites in central Europe during the Late Gravettian , when much of the northern plains region had already been abandoned. Mean annual temperature was between -1.0 °C and +4.3 °C.” The Late Gravettian was a Paleolithic culture , whose artifacts have been found throughout northern Europe.
How Arctic Fox Teeth Told A Different Story
Researchers wrote in the Journal of Archaeology that the site “is important for understanding human behavior and adaptation in cold, northern and marginal landscapes approaching the coldest part of the last glacial cycle.” Their work focuses on the thousands of bones of Arctic foxes unearthed at the site. The researchers stated it “presents new data on the mobility patterns and season of death of the animals killed by Gravettian hunters.” The remains are approximately 27,500 years old and were found some 20 miles (30 km) south of an assemblage of mammoth bones , that had presumably also been killed by hunters.
An Artic fox on the hunt in winter resistant to the super cold, just like the Ice Age hunters (Olha / Adobe Stock )
The team focused on the teeth of the foxes and tested their isotopes to determine where they had been born and where died. Researchers wrote in the Journal of Archaeology that “Laser ablation strontium isotope analysis of teeth from five individuals indicates that each analyzed fox was born and grew up in a different and isotopically distinct location.” This means these foxes had travelled hundreds of miles looking for prey, and eventually went as far south as Krakow Spadzista, a little north of the border of Slovakia.
Ice Age Winter Hunting: For Furs And Fox Fat
The University of Exeter reports that “Analysis of the dental cementum of at least 10 fox individuals demonstrate that the majority were killed between late winter and late spring, most likely in late winter.” The remains indicated that the foxes were various ages when they died. “The study suggests the Arctic fox colonized the area because they moved over long distances season by season, something they still do today, in order to find food,” according to the press release. It appears that they were killed by hunters using snares and traps.
Dr Alexander Pryor of the University of Exeter stated that the “Arctic fox provided both food and hides to Paleolithic hunters.” They would have sought to kill them in the depths of winter because that was when their fur was at its longest and thickest. Moreover, their body was fat during this season and could, therefore, provide protein to the hunters, which they needed in the extreme cold.
An Artic fox with its front paw caught in a hunter’s trap (Nationalmuseet - National Museum of Denmark from Denmark / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Base camp for hunters
“The high numbers of fox remains found at the site suggests what was happening was a deliberate, organized procurement strategy rather than just simple incidental hunting,” said Dr Pryor in an article in the Heritage Daily . There was no evidence of long-term dwelling at the site, strongly suggesting that the Krakow Spadzista settlement was not used year-round.
The animal teeth analysis has clearly shown that Ice Age hunters snared and trapped migrating Arctic foxes in the coldest months of the year. Based on this insight, the site at Krakow Spadzista was likely used as a base camp by Paleolithic hunters. The prehistoric humans would use it to maintain traps and also to skin and butcher the foxes that they had trapped. Essentially, Krakow Spadzista was used as a location to process the hides of the animals, which were then taken elsewhere.
This study provides evidence that “communities living around 27,500 years ago were killing small prey in the inhospitable North European Plains during the winter months of the last Ice Age.” This seems to support the argument that early humans did not migrate from cold regions during the Ice Age. Rather they stayed even during the intense cold and extreme weather of the winter. Most of the foxes were killed during between the late winter and early spring, based on the analysis data.
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In the Journal of Archaeology , the team wrote that “The results are interesting for reconstructing the context to human hunting strategies in the Late Gravettian.” It seems likely that the availability of Arctic foxes and other animals, such as mammoths, persuaded them to stay and endure the cold as these very animals provided them with furs and nourishment. The latest discoveries demonstrate the resourcefulness and adaptability of the prehistoric communities who lived in northernly and marginal lands during the last Ice Age. Moreover, it proves that northern Europe was not deserted by people during the extended period of extra cold weather.
Crossing From Asia, the First Americans Rushed Into the Unknown
Three new genetic analyses lend detail, and mystery, to the migration of prehistoric humans throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Nearly 11,000 years ago, a man died in what is now Nevada. Wrapped in a rabbit-skin blanket and reed mats, he was buried in a place called Spirit Cave.
Now scientists have recovered and analyzed his DNA, along with that of 70 other ancient people whose remains were discovered throughout the Americas. The findings lend astonishing detail to a story once lost to prehistory: how and when humans spread across the Western Hemisphere.
The earliest known arrivals from Asia were already splitting into recognizably distinct groups, the research suggests. Some of these populations thrived, becoming the ancestors of indigenous peoples throughout the hemisphere.
But other groups died out entirely, leaving no trace save for what can be discerned in ancient DNA. Indeed, the new genetic research hints at many dramatic chapters in the peopling of the Americas that archaeology has yet to uncover.
“Now, this is the grist for archaeologists,” said Ben Potter of the University of Alaska, who was not involved in the new papers. “Holy cow, this is awesome.”
Earlier studies had indicated that people moved into the Americas at the end of the last ice age, traveling from Siberia to Alaska across a land bridge now under the Bering Sea. They spread southward, eventually reaching the tip of South America.
Until recently, geneticists could offer little insight into these vast migrations. Five years ago, just one ancient human genome had been recovered in the Western Hemisphere: that of a 4,000-year-old man discovered in Greenland.
The latest batch of analyses, published in three separate studies, marks a turnaround. In the past few years, researchers have recovered the genomes of 229 ancient people from teeth and bones discovered throughout the Americas.
About 16,000 years ago , the ancestors of living indigenous Americans split into two main branches.
Around 14,000 years ago , the southern branch split into new branches that rapidly spread into South America.
Starting 9,000 years ago , a wave of people from North or Central America replaced older populations in South America.
By at least 4,200 years ago ,
a group of people related to ancient Californians had become widespread in the Central Andes.
Analysis of ancient DNA suggests that a small population of people from Siberia populated the Americas. Over thousands of years, different branches expanded southward, mixing with or replacing earlier waves.
David Reich of Harvard and his colleagues found evidence for the waves shown above. Other teams have come to broadly similar conclusions, though many questions remain.
Analysis of ancient DNA suggests that a small population of people from Siberia populated the Americas. Over thousands of years, different branches expanded southward, mixing with or replacing earlier waves.
David Reich of Harvard and his colleagues found evidence for the waves shown below. Other teams have come to broadly similar conclusions, though many questions remain.
About 16,000 years ago , the ancestors of living indigenous Americans split into two main branches.
About 14,000 years ago , the southern branch split into new branches that rapidly spread into South America.
Starting 9,000 years ago , a wave of people from North or Central America replaced older populations in South America.
By at least 4,200 years ago , a group of people related to ancient Californians had become widespread in the Central Andes.
By The New York Times | Source: Cosimo Posth et al., Cell
The first, described in January by Eske Willerslev, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen, was an 11,500-year-old girl whose remains were found in eastern Alaska.
The second was discovered hundreds of miles away, in western Alaska, and lived 9,000 years ago, Dr. Willerslev and his colleagues reported on Thursday in the journal Science.
The Ancient Beringians separated from the ancestors of living indigenous people in the Americas about 20,000 years ago. The new findings suggest they endured for several thousand years. Then they disappeared, leaving no known genetic trace in living people.
But another wave of migrants from Siberia did not stop in Alaska. They kept moving, eventually arriving south of the ice age glaciers. Then they split into two branches.
One group turned and headed north, following the retreating glaciers into Canada and back to Alaska. The other branch took a remarkable journey south.
The genetic data suggest that this group spread swiftly across much of North America and South America about 14,000 years ago. The expansion may have taken only centuries.
“It’s basically an explosion,” Dr. Willerslev said.
The man from Spirit Cave in Nevada belonged to this so-called southern branch of migrants. He also was closely related to a 12,700-year-old boy found on the other side of the Rocky Mountains in Montana, Dr. Willerslev also found.
But the man from Spirit Cave also turned out to have a close genetic link to 10,400-year-old skeletons found in Brazil, on the other side of the Equator.
David Reich of Harvard University and his colleagues found a similar pattern in their own research, published on Thursday in the journal Cell.
They uncovered a link between the ancient Montana boy and another group of ancient South Americans, including a 10,900-year-old skeleton in Chile. Like Dr. Willerslev’s work, the kinship suggests that migrants moved quickly from North America to South America.
“We agree that this must be a rapid radiation,” said Dr. Reich.
Starting about 9,000 years ago, both teams found, additional waves of people moved southward. Dr. Willerslev’s research suggests the new arrivals mixed with older South American populations.
Dr. Reich, on the other hand, sees evidence for two waves of migrants who completely replaced the people who had lived in South America.
The new research also revealed instances of remarkable continuity, kinships that spanned thousands of years.
Dr. Willerslev and his colleagues compared the genome of the man from Spirit Cave to those of four sets of remains found nearby in Nevada’s Lovelock Cave, who lived as recently as 600 years ago.
All of these people were closely related, his team found, despite being separated by 10,000 years of history.
A similar bond was found in the Andes. John Lindo of Emory University and his colleagues analyzed DNA from seven people who lived at high elevations between 6,800 and 1,400 years ago.
The researchers estimate that people who lived above 7,500 feet in the mountains were separated from the lowland populations between 9,200 and 8,200 years ago. Today, the mountain people still show a strong genetic link to the ancient remains.
“This is not something that you see in most other regions of the world,” said Dr. Reich.
In 2015, Dr. Reich and his colleagues found that some living people in the Amazon carry some DNA that’s most similar to that of people who live today in Australia and New Guinea.
The researchers speculated that their ancestry included an unknown group, which the scientists called Population Y, who separately made their way into the Americas.
In their new study, Dr. Reich and his colleagues found no trace of Population Y — but Dr. Willerslev’s team succeeded in identifying their DNA in some of the 10,400-year-old skeletons in Brazil.
“The million-dollar question obviously is, how did this happen?” Dr. Willerslev said.
Perhaps another group of Asians entered the Americas long before the ancestors of the man from Spirit Cave and other early Native Americans. Maybe they interbred with people in the Amazon before disappearing altogether.
Or perhaps a few of the early members of the southern branch happened to have some odd genes that survived through the generations.
The new rush of genetic samples reflects an improving relationship between scientists and indigenous peoples. For decades, many tribes rejected requests for DNA from researchers.
The man from Spirit Cave, for example, was dug up by archaeologists in 1940 and stored in a museum. The local tribe, the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone, didn’t learn of the body till 1996. For years they fought for its repatriation.
“It’s utterly disrespectful,” said Rochanne L. Downs, a member of the tribe’s cultural committee. “If someone went into Arlington Cemetery and dug the grave of one of the soldiers and took their medals, there would be outrage.”
Initially, the tribe was opposed to looking for DNA in the skeleton, because scientists would have to destroy much of it. Dr. Willerslev met with the tribe and explained that he would require only a tooth and a small piece of ear bone.
The tribe agreed to give him one shot at finding DNA in the Spirit Cave remains.
Dr. Willerslev’s results led the Bureau of Land Management to turn over the skeleton to the tribe. They buried the man from Spirit Cave at an undisclosed location last year.
Ms. Downs wouldn’t rule out similar studies in the future, but said each request would require careful consideration.
“It’s all going to be on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “The main thing is our respect for the remains.”
Traces of some of South America’s earliest people found under ancient dirt pyramid
About 600 kilometers north of Lima, an imposing earthen mound looms over the sea. People began building the ceremonial structure, called Huaca Prieta, about 7800 years ago. But according to a new study, the true surprise lies buried deep beneath the 30-meter-tall mound: stone tools, animal bones, and plant remains left behind by some of the earliest known Americans nearly 15,000 years ago. That makes Huaca Prieta one of the oldest archaeological sites in the Americas and suggests that the region’s first migrants may have moved surprisingly slowly down the coast.
The evidence of early human occupation stunned Tom Dillehay, an archaeologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville who led the new study. Initially, he was interested in examining the mound itself. But geologists on his team wanted to study the landform under the mound, so “we just kept going down,” he says. The deepest pit, which took 5 years to excavate, reached down 31 meters. Shockingly, those deep layers contained telltale signs of human occupation, Dillehay’s team reports today in Science Advances : evidence of hearth fires, animal bones, plant remains, and simple but unmistakable stone tools. Radiocarbon dates from charcoal place the earliest human occupation at nearly 15,000 years ago.
That’s made some researchers say Huaca Prieta should join the small but growing list of pre-14,000-year-old sites that have revolutionized scientists’ vision of the earliest Americans. Archaeologists used to think that people walked from Siberia through an ice-free passage down Alaska and Canada, reaching the interior of the United States about 13,000 years ago. In recent years, however, well documented earlier sites like Chile’s Monte Verde have convinced most archaeologists that humans made it deep into the Americas by 14,500 years ago, meaning that they would have had to cross Canada long before an ice-free corridor existed. That would have left them with one logical route into the Americas: down the Pacific coast. But direct evidence for such a migration is lacking.
People living near Huaca Prieta today continue to hunt sharks stranded in pools left behind by storms.
The new find isn’t old enough to prove that the first Americans came down the coast, says Dillehay, who also excavated Monte Verde. But Huaca Prieta does provide a detailed snapshot of ancient coastal lives. The earliest residents lived in temporary camps in an ancient wetland, eating avocado, chiles, mollusks, sharks, birds, and sea lions. Interestingly, Dillehay did not find any fishing lines, nets, or harpoons. But he suspects people didn’t need them because storm surges would have sent seawater flooding deep inland, leaving behind pools full of stranded marine creatures. Then, the Huaca Prieta hunters could have simply smashed them over the heads and chowed down—much like people in the region do today, Dillehay says.
The Huaca Preita residents knew so much about their environment that Dillehay can’t imagine they were just stopping by on their journey south. If they were part of a wave of coastal migration, they certainly weren’t in a hurry. “This looks like people settling in,” agrees Loren Davis, an archaeologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis. “As old as this is, you’re probably not looking at the first peoples on the landscape.”
The Huaca Prietans managed to do all this with surprisingly simple stone tools. Instead of complex spear points, they used flakes knocked off round beach stones for everything from prying open shellfish to cutting up plants. “They’re like disposable razors,” says Matthew Des Lauriers, an archaeologist at California State University in Northridge, who has found the same kind of tools on Cedros Island off Baja California, where people lived more than 12,000 years ago. The similar tools could be evidence for the very first coastal migration, he says. But the only way to know for sure is to find more coastal sites.
How Did Ancient Humans Travel to America from Asia? New Research Looks at Pacific Coast
Humans have always been good at spreading out and covering ground, but we can't tackle every obstacle in our path. Giant ice sheets that spread for miles in every direction, for example, tend to stop all but the most adventurous of us quite efficiently&mdashand they likely shaped the path humans took to first enter North America from Asia.
Scientists have been pondering two possible routes for decades. One crawls along the Pacific Coast, weaving between the islands of southern Alaska the other slips between two giant ice sheets, much further east and inland. In order to help figure out how plausible the first route is, a team of scientists wanted to measure how long ago ice sheets retreated from the coastline&mdashand now they've done just that, as they report in a new paper published in the journal Science Advances. The new research suggests the route would have been accessible about 17,000 years ago.
"We didn't know much about the ice sheet history along the Pacific coast," senior author Jason Briner, a glacial geologist at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Newsweek. The new work changes that, he said. "We figured out that the ice sheet went away and unblocked the Pacific route earlier than the middle of the continent," he added.
Briner and his colleagues used a technique for analyzing the chemical fingerprint of beryllium in the rock. That signature tells scientists when rock became uncovered, and that analysis on the Alaskan rocks told the team the ice had retreated about 17,000 years ago.
The team also built a timeline of animal bones discovered in a coastal cave, which had previously been studied by other scientists. It was apparently a favorite snacking spot for one or more critters, who carried pieces of animals there to munch away on. All those bones built up as a sort of cemetery, and thousands of years later, scientists have been able to pinpoint when those animals died.
That timeline shows that bones were carried in pretty regularly over time&mdashexcept for a short window between about 19,800 and 17,200 years ago. Briner and his colleagues believe that represents a brief period when the cave's entrance was blocked by ice. They're particularly suspicious because just before and after that blank spot, the bone record is particularly rich in ring seals, which are closely associated with ice sheets&mdashand the seals, of course, could have made tasty meals for humans venturing along a newly uncovered route.
And this gets to why it matters what route humans took to reach North America: The skills needed to travel along the coastal route are different from those needed to survive further inland. They would have hunted different animals and relied on different technologies to thrive.
"You can't go down the coast without boats. There would have been a lot of island-hopping," Briner said. "The ocean feeds you and no culture does that without boats."
The work also fits into the bigger context of scientists' understanding of early humans in the Americas. That understanding was in large part shaped by distinctive arrowheads dating to about 13,000 years ago that archaeologists call Clovis points in honor of the town where they were first discovered.
But over the years, scientists have realized that there was plenty happening on the continent before the Clovis settlements. "For the last 30 years, people have been breaking the Clovis barrier with various archaeological discoveries," said E. James Dixon, an anthropologist recently retired from the University of New Mexico who wasn't involved in the new research.
That was a problem because scientists needed to find another route into the heart of North America, since the inland route was still blocked by ice&mdashhence the interest in the hypothesized coastal route.
Both Briner and Dixon emphasize that the new research doesn't actually prove that the coastal route is what got humans into North America, just that it would have been possible. "They're not looking for artifacts, what they're doing is dating the time at which ice covered the region," Dixon said. "It does not prove the hypothesis at all, although it does strengthen it."
Someday soon, he expects, scientists will be sure which route early humans took. In the meantime, as they continue to trace the long-ago journey, we'll have to satisfy ourselves with the knowledge that we'll likely never have to make a similar trek ourselves.
LAKE APOPKA HOLDS TREASURES OF FLORIDA'S ANCIENT HISTORY
Lake Apopka was a magnet for some of Orange County's earliest American settlers because of the fertile soil around it and the fact that the water tempered both the summer's heat and winter's chill.
Ancient settlers in the area were no doubt attracted by the lakefront's same features. How long ago people lived next to the huge lake is not clear. But amateur anthropologist Edward Kimball of Winter Park has found artifacts indicating that people were hunting and fishing in the area at least 10,000 years ago.
After a lifetime traveling around the world and managing agricultural operations in such far-flung places as Latin America and North Africa, Kimball returned to Florida. He had developed a fascination with finding native artifacts while growing up near Weirsdale. He once stumbled across a conquistador's brass stirrup on a farm in Venezuela.
He indulges his interest in archaeology on citrus groves and farmland next to Lake Apopka. Since 1991, he has found dozens of spear points (sometimes mistakenly called "arrowheads"), knives and scraping tools, pieces of carved bone and shards of pottery too numerous to count.
The points and other stone implements were made from a material called chert, which is a flintlike rock found in other parts of Florida that is heated to make it brittle enough to chip into tools.
Some of the items can be dated to between 9000 and 11,000 B.C. The fact that other artifacts include pieces of tempered pottery dating only 3,000 to 4,000 years is a strong indication that the land around Lake Apopka was populated more or less continuously for thousands of years.
"People don't realize there was so much activity around Lake Apopka," Kimball said.
These aboriginal Floridians wandered like nomads before clustering into villages about 6000 to 5000 B.C., Robin C. Brown writes in his 1994 book, Florida's First People.
Many of the items Kimball found on the ground near the lake. Others were only a few inches to as much as 4 feet under the surface. He has found artifacts on his own farmland as well as on the groves and other agricultural property of neighbors whose permission he secured to dig.
Sometimes, though, property owners have gotten nervous after Kimball found artifacts, and withdrew permission for him to dig out of fear the state might declar their land a historic site, he said.
In 1994, he made an impressive find of five Stanfield points - named for their design and the era in which they were made (6000 to 7000 B.C.) - within inches of each other while digging in a citrus grove on the south side of the lake.
Anthropologists think the first people to live in Florida arrived sometime between 11,000 and 13,000 B.C. They were thought to have been part of the great migration of people from Asia who crossed the land bridge to Alaska that existed when seas were lower during the last Ice Age.
As these hunter-gatherers settled in village-like clusters, they used stone tools to open the mussels they found in Lake Apopka. Kimball found piles of discarded shells as much as two feet deep under the soil - further indicating that people stayed for lengthy periods.
Because its level would have been lower thousands of years ago, Kimball wonders if Lake Apopka looked more like a spring-fed river than a lake back then.
If the shore was hundreds of yards closer to the center of the lake than where it is today, then an untapped trove of archaeological artifacts is probably buried under the muck now at the lake's bottom, he writes in an unpublished manuscript on his findings.
Because fish and game were so plentiful, the earliest settlers did not cultivate crops. (Corn was not grown in Florida until after A.D. 750, Jerald T. Milanich writes in Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe, though some groups raised squash before that.)
They did gather nuts and berries to supplement their diets. They also learned to make a starchy flour from coontie, and they dug out the hearts of saw palmettos and sabal palms for food.
Additional evidence of ancient native settlement in Orange County was found in the early 1980s at what is now the Hunter's Creek neighborhood in south Orange.
Rollins College anthropology professor Marilyn Stewart led teams of researchers and students who studied three campsites of prehistoric hunters along Shingle Creek, just north of the Osceola County line, starting in 1983.
These early residents brought chert from southwest Florida to make spear points, knives, axes, scrapers and crude drill bits. Some of the artifacts date as far as 9,000 years, Stewart said in a 1990 interview.
Hunters used the Shingle Creek camps over a long span of time - until roughly 500 B.C. - indicating that several groups used the site at various periods.
Other evidence of early native settlement has been found along the Wekiva River, including an intact ancient dugout canoe.
Several thousand years after the first hunters camped at Lake Apopka and Shingle Creek, more modern "Indians," as the Europeans called them, were living in what is now Orange County.
The Timucua Kingdom of the Sun stretched across a vast region of North and Central Florida. Evidence indicates the Timucua were here as early as 2000 to 1000 B.C. The Seminoles didn't arrive until the 1700s.
"My interest in learning through hands-on effort about human life hundreds or thousands of years ago is something I cannot clearly explain," Kimball writes. "The artifacts I have found around Lake Apopka I would gladly give to any museum that would take them, but apparently my bona fides are not acceptable."
This week in Orange County history:
The U.S. Post Office contracted with H.E. Ostera to carry the mail between Tampa and the settlements at what are now Orlando and Sanford in 1851.
A new post office building for Orlando was dedicated in 1941.
Church bells rang throughout Orange County upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.
Native American History of Coweta County, Georgia
Coweta County is located in west central Georgia and is part of the Atlanta Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA.) Its name is the English version of the Creek Indian town named Kowitv, which was formerly located on the Chattahoochee River, either in Coweta or adjacent Carroll County. Coweta’s county seat is Newnan.
Coweta County is bounded on the northeast by Fulton County and on the northwest by the Chattahoochee River and Carroll County. Heard County forms its western boundary. Line Creek and Fayette County forms its eastern boundary. Meriwether County is to the south of Coweta. Spalding County forms a relatively short boundary on the southeast, while Troup County is located to the southwest.
Geology and hydrology
Coweta County is located in the Piedmont geological region, which is characterized by underlying rock strata of igneous and metamorphicized igneous rock. The terrain consists of rolling hills, stream valleys and some relatively level plateaus in the area around Newnan. Seasonal or permanent wetlands parallel many of its streams. These are relatively narrow bands of soggy terrain that provide ecological diversity for animal and plant life. The top soils are thin over most hills and steep slopes, while much deeper near streams. Short-sighted cultivation techniques in the 19 th and early 20 th century caused much of the best top soil to be eroded thus exposing red clay sub-soil. Sandy loam can still be found near streams and there are some deposits of blue pipe clay (alluvial kaolin.)
Coweta County is drained by the Chattahoochee River and outside the county by the Flint River. The drainage areas divide the county roughly in half. The Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers join in deep southwestern Georgia to form the Apalachicola River, which flows through Florida into the Gulf of Mexico.
The county’s largest stream is the Chattahoochee River on its northwestern border. It was navigable for small steamboats in the 1800s, but now is primarily used by canoes and small recreational power boats. The depth of the river would have been sufficient to support the largest trade canoes in Native American times.
The popular explanation of the meaning of Chattahoochee is that it is Creek word meaning, “River with the shining rocks.” This is probably not accurate. Until the late 1700s, there was a large Creek town with several mounds, where Six Flags Over Georgia is now located. In the Itsate (Hitchiti-Creek) language, it was named Cata-hvci (pronounced Chata-hawchee,) which means “Red River.” The river at this town site is often clay red and contains no visible stones. When most of the Creeks were forcibly deported to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma,) they called a principal river through their lands, the Red River.
Coweta County contains several major creeks. Cedar Creek and Mountain Creek drain into the Chattahoochee River. Shoal, Line and White Oak Creek drain into the Flint River.
Native American occupation
In the past, Coweta County was densely populated with Native Americans. Throughout the county, freshly tilled soil often reveals pre-European artifacts, mostly spear and atlatl points, plus some simple pottery shards. True “arrowheads” are much smaller than what laymen typically label arrowheads. The highest population levels were apparently from around 4000 BC to 500 AD. Once large scale agriculture began around 950 AD, native populations tended to shift to the bottomlands along the Chattahoochee River.
Early settlers in Coweta County reported seeing many small mounds. Most of these were probably burial mounds from the Archaic and Woodland Periods, but some may have been small platform mounds for the houses of district administrators (oratv talufa.) Two hundred years of cultivation and land development have erased most mounds. Some, that are invisible at ground level, may be seen as dark circles and ovals on infrared aerial photos.
The region around Coweta County was occupied by the Koweta branch of the Creek Indians when first visited by English traders in 1685. Its archaeological record suggests that Muskogeans have lived within its boundaries from the time of their arrival in Georgia, which is now believed to have been around 4-300 BC. Coweta County’s Creek Indians always enjoyed friendly relations with first the Colony of Georgia and then, the State of Georgia. Probably thousands of descendants of West Georgia’s “Friendly” Creeks, who opted for state citizenship, still live in the region.
Throughout the 1700s and early 1800s, the Creek Indians were by far the largest tribe north of Mexico. However during the 1800s, they were repeatedly subdivided, assimilated, killed in battle or intentionally starved to death in concentration camps. Although they take a much lower profile than Cherokee descendants, there probably still many more people in the United States carrying at least some Muskogean DNA than any other tribe. However, the federally recognized Muscogee – Creek Nation of Oklahoma is only the fourth largest federally recognized tribe, behind the Navajo, Oklahoma Cherokees and Oklahoma Choctaws.
Native American Cultural Periods
Archaeologists believe that humans have lived in Coweta County for at least 12,000 years, perhaps much longer. Clovis and Folsom points, associated with Late Ice age big game hunters have been found in the upper Chattahoochee River Valley. During the Ice Age, herds of giant mammals roamed the river bottom lands. The mastodons, saber tooth tigers, giant sloths and other massive mammals died out about 8,000 years ago. The ethnic identity of the Clovis Culture hunters is not known. They were long presumed to be American Indians, but recent research by anthropologists have revealed many similarities with the big game hunters of Western Europe. An ice cap on the North Atlantic Ocean may have permitted early humans to move back and forth between continents by paddling, while gaining sustenance from hunting sea mammals and fishing.
Archaic Period (8,000 BC – 1000 BC)
After the climate warmed, animals and plants typical of today soon predominated in this region. Humans adapted to the changes and gradually became more sophisticated. They adopted seasonal migratory patterns that maximized access to food resources. Archaic hunters probably moved to locations along major rivers during the winter, where they could eat fish and fresh water mussels, if game was not plentiful. During the remainder of the year, smaller streams would have been desirable camp sites.
Coweta County was an ideal location for bands of hunters and gatherers. The county’s network of creeks and wetlands provided a diverse ecological environment for game animals and edible plants. Native Americans learned to set massive brush fires in the late autumn which cleared the landscape of shrubs and created natural pastures for deer, bison and elk. The Georgia Piedmont had numerous Woodland bison until they were killed off by British settlers in the mid-1700s. The landscape that European settlers encountered in the Piedmont was not natural. It had been altered for thousands of years by Native Americans to create optimum environments for the natural production of food sources.
During the late Archaic Period, several trade routes developed in this region that interconnected the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Appalachian Mountains and Great Lakes. Native Americans began traveling long distances to trade and socialize. There was an important east-west trail that ran from the shoals on the Savannah River (now Augusta) to the Chattahoochee River in Coweta and Carroll Counties, Georgia and then to the land of the Chickasaws in southwestern Tennessee. This trail approximately followed the route of Highway 54 in Coweta County.
Woodland Period (1000 BC – 900 AD)
The Etowah, Chattahoochee and Flint River Valleys were locations of some of the earliest permanent villages in North America. A sedentary lifestyle was made possible by abundant natural food sources such as game, freshwater mussels and chestnuts and the cultivation of gardens. Agriculture came very early here. Initially, the cultivated plants were of indigenous origin and included a native squash, native sweet potato, sunflowers, Jerusalem artichoke, amaranth, sumpweed, and chenopodium.
The early villages were relatively small and dispersed. There was probably much socialization among these villages because of the need to find spouses that were not closely related. Houses were round and built out of saplings, river cane and thatch.
The Woodland Period peoples of the region built numerous mounds. Apparently, most mounds were primarily for burials, but may have also supported simple structures that were used for rituals or meetings. They were constructed accretionally. This means that the mounds grew in size over the generations by piling soil and detritus from the village over recent burials.
Archaeological evidence in the Chattahoochee and Flint River Valleys suggests that the first Muskogean farmers entered northeast Georgia around 400 BC, after migrating from west-central Mexico. However, the region was probably was already occupied by ancestors of the Yuchi and Southern Siouans with languages similar to the Catawba. There may have been other ethnic groups whose identities have been concealed by time. Agricultural technology, cultural traditions and DNA probably blended between these peoples. Modern “Creek” Indians may represent a genetic mix of several indigenous ethnic groups.
The oldest known platform mound and permanent agricultural village in Georgia was discovered about 18 miles upstream from Coweta County on the Chattahoochee River. It was located on Sandtown Creek, across the river from Six Flags Over Georgia and the newer town of Chattahoochee. Archaeologists believe that the older town was occupied from around 200 BC to 500 AD. The Chattahoochee Mounds were destroyed without being studied during the construction of Six Flags. The older town site across the river was covered with 20 feet of fill dirt after being studied by archaeologists from the University of Georgia. It is believed that members of the same ethnic group that built the mounds at Six Flags, also lived in Coweta County during that era.
Muskogean town dwellers (900 AD – 1784 AD)
Muskogeans carried with them advanced cultural traditions from Mexico and the Lower Mississippi Valley. The early Muskogeans eventually formed provinces that were governed by large towns. Prior to arrival of Europeans, there were no Indian “tribes.” The large towns were usually located in the bottomlands on major rivers such as the Chattahoochee. Smaller villages located near creeks. Native Americans continued to live in what is now Coweta County, but their populations were concentrated elsewhere.
One of the earliest “advanced” indigenous towns in the United States was founded on the Macon Plateau around 900 AD. Its founders were newcomers, who carried with them many Mesoamerican cultural traits. They may have been either Itza Mayas or the hybrid descendants of both Mayas and indigenous peoples. The language that most of the Creek Indians’ ancestors spoke in Georgia was Itsate (Hitchiti in English.) The Itza Maya’s also called themselves, Itsati. There are many Maya and Totonac words in the various dialects spoken by the Creek Indians that came from Mexico.
Throughout the Southeast, many provinces began to share common artistic symbols and agricultural lifestyles. Societies became more organized politically with elite families, non-agricultural specialists and local leaders. This era is known as the Southern Ceremonial Cult Period, Mississippian Period or Hierarchal Period. The “Mississippian” label came from a conference at Harvard University in 1947 which adopted the inaccurate belief that all advanced Native American culture originated north of the Mason-Dixon Line along the Mississippi River. Villages located in Coweta County would have been affected by the cultural influence of regional centers such as the Ocmulgee Mound Complex in Macon, GA or the Abercrombie and Kyle mound complexes in Russell County, AL and Muscogee County, GA.
European exploration period (1540 AD – 1717 AD)
There is evidence that European diseases began affecting coastal populations as early as 1500 AD Native American traders carried the microbes northward from Cuba and then into the lowlands near the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Coast. Shortly after the Hernando de Soto Expedition passed through Georgia in 1540, waves of European diseases began to decimate the Native American population. De Soto probably passed through or near Macon, GA in March of 1540. Thus, the indigenous people of Coweta County would have been exposed to deadly pathogens at least by the summer of 1540. Anthropologists currently believe that the indigenous population of Georgia dropped about 95% between 1500 and 1700 AD.
The Kingdom of Spain claimed all of the Chattahoochee and Flint River Basins, including Coweta County, from 1567 until 1745. This claim was based on the Juan Pardo Expedition and a surveying expedition authorized by Governor Don Benito Ruiz de Salazar Vallecilla of the Province of La Florida around 1647. The surveying and gold prospecting expedition followed the Chattahoochee River to its source at Unicoi Gap. The Governor then established a trading post in the vicinity of the Chattahoochee headwaters. The Spanish explorers and traders definitely passed through the future Coweta County on many occasions.
Koweta Creeks: This branch of the Creeks originated in a cluster of several towns with mounds along the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River in Rabun County, GA and Macon County, NC. They originally spoke Itsate (Hitchiti) and called themselves the Kowi-te, which means Mountain Lion People. A North Carolina archaeologist found pottery dating back to around 3-400 AD at their oldest town site in Otto, NC. This town site is a mirror image of the much more famous and younger Etowah Mounds in Cartersville, GA. This fact suggests that the Koweta Creeks occupied Etowah Mounds between 1250 AD and 1375 AD. The main mounds in each town are the same shape and are aligned with the azimuth of the Winter Solstice sunset.
By the time the Colony of Georgia had been founded, towns and villages associated with the Koweta could be found in northeast Georgia and the Georgia Piedmont. Apparently, they controlled the Chattahoochee River from present day Habersham County to Columbus, GA. In that era, the two most important Koweta towns were at Indian Springs, GA and on the Chattahoochee River northwest of Newnan.
Agricultural advancements: Almost immediately after Spanish missions were established on the coast of Georgia in the late 1500s, the ancestors of the Creeks were growing European fruits and vegetables in addition to their traditional crops. A Spanish expedition in 1600 observed peaches, pears and melons being grown in a village on the Ocmulgee River. By the 1700s, Creeks were also raising European livestock. Chickens and hogs were the first European animals acquired to supplement their turkey flocks and Mexican meat dogs. By the late 1700s, most Georgia Creek men owned horses and had become skilled herders of cattle, horses and hogs.
Creek Confederacy: The Creek Confederacy of “People of One Fire” was a political alliance formed by the remnants of many advanced indigenous provinces in the Lower Southeast. This alliance probable developed during the late 1600s. The member towns represented several ethnic groups, but the Muskogees and Itsati’s (Hitchitis) dominated the alliance. Muskogee was selected as the parliamentary language of the alliance. When British settlers first settled the coast of Georgia, Itsati was spoken by most Georgia Creeks. By 1800, a composite Muskogee language had became the spoken tongue of Creek citizens.
Creek and Cherokee War: In 1715 Cherokee leaders invited all the Creek Confederacy’s leaders to a friendly diplomatic conference in the town of Tugaloo, which was on the headwaters of the Savannah River and the boundary between the two peoples. All of the leaders of the Creek Confederacy attending were treacherously murdered in their sleep. This started a 40 year long war between the Cherokees and Creeks. Because the Cherokees were being armed by South Carolina, they initially gained a toehold in northeastern Georgia. However, once the Colony of Georgia was founded in 1732 and allied itself with the Creeks, the tides of war changed.
The earliest British map of the interior of Georgia (1744) shows the Creek capital of Koweta being located roughly where the McIntosh Reserve is now on the Chattahoochee River in Carroll County or across the river in Coweta County. The most important trade route on the 1744 map is the Creek-Chickasaw Trade Trail that followed the route of Highway 54 in Coweta County.
In 1754 the Creek town of Koweta, on the Chattahoochee River dispatched an army composed of only its men and teenagers. Creek armies fought in a disciplined manner like Europeans. The Koweta’s quickly destroyed all the Cherokee towns in North Georgia and the lower half of western North Carolina. One of the most important Cherokee towns in North Carolina, Quanasee, was captured by an army composed entirely of teenage girls.
Assassin squads were sent by Koweta into South and North Carolina to kill Cherokee chiefs. Several were even assassinated on the streets of Charleston. Six Cherokee leaders, who were descendants of the Cherokee shamans and chiefs in Tugaloo, who murdered the Creek leaders in their sleep, were marched back to a location on the Chattahoochee River near Carrollton, GA – then burned alive. By 1755 the tribal boundaries were back in North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, where they had been in 1725.
One of the greatest ironies of Georgia history involves the Cherokees in northwest Georgia. In the 1820s they were in the United States Supreme Court, fighting the State of Georgia’s efforts to expel them to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma today.) The Cherokee litignts made up stories about great battles in the Georgia Mountains in 1754, in which the Cherokees won all of North Georgia. These stories are now stated as facts, both on historical markers and in official Georgia history textbooks.
Extensive research by a team of history professors from the University of Oklahoma has determined that the Battles of Taliwa and Blood Mountain never happened. According to official British Army maps there were only three small Cherokee hamlets with a total of 24 warriors in northeastern Georgia in 1780. Creek communities remained in what is now Union and Fannin Counties even after northwest Georgia was given to the Cherokees by the Federal Government in 1793. The Creek Confederacy continued to control land as far north as Clarkesville, GA in the mountains until 1818.
Dispersed farmsteads: 1780 AD – 1821 AD
Georgia history books are fraught with the names of famous Creek “chiefs.” Their correct title is Mekko, derived from the Maya word meaning the same thing, mako. The perception of the importance of these individuals was by and large created by the ethnocentricity of the British. In fact, Creek leaders governed by consensus. They could do nothing without the approval of elected representative bodies. The signature of a leader on a treaty, meant nothing if it was not authorized by the Creek legislature.
After the American Revolution, Creek families dispersed across the vast territory now controlled by the Creek Confederacy. They lived in log cabins on farmsteads that differed little in appearance from Anglo-American farmsteads. Local histories that recall Creek village names from the 1800s are actually records of rural communities, where the farmsteads were closer together, not palisaded towns as in the pre-European days.
In 1793, the Creek Nation was shocked to learn that the Federal government had given away some of its most sacred territory, the Etowah River Valley down to the Tallapoosa River in what is now Douglas County, GA, to the Cherokees. The Principal Chief of the Muscogee Creek Nation is still called Etalwamikko . . . King of Etowah. The remainder of northwest Georgia was taken from the Upper Creeks as punishment for assisting the British in the Revolution. Of course, the Cherokees had massacred over a thousand settlers between 1776 and 1793, but Tennesseans were mad at the Upper Creeks for almost capturing Nashville. It was explained to the Creeks that the land theft was a “clerical mistake,” but they were promised that their other Sacred Lands, the Ocmulgee Bottoms, would be theirs forever.
Redstick War: 1813-1814
Many Georgia Creeks prospered when improved road transportation and explosive expansion of the state’s population brought plantations and towns in proximity to Creek farms. Creek farmers were vastly more skilled at growing food crops than European immigrants. While white Georgians chased the dream of becoming wealthy cotton planters, shrewd Creeks shifted from subsistence farming to the production of agricultural surpluses, which were sold for cash outside the Creek Nation. Meanwhile, many Creeks in northern and southwestern Alabama attempted to cling to the old way of life, which included extensive hunting and fishing. It was an impossible dream, because over-hunting in the 1700s had swept the forests clear of all the bison and elk and most of the deer.
The branches of the Creek Confederacy in Georgia were already different than those in much of Alabama to start with. They spoke different languages and dialects, plus had been in direct contact with the British colonists since the 1670s. The Georgia Creeks had a long history of peaceful relations with all their European and African neighbors. They were also increasingly becoming Protestant Christians.
Perhaps over a thousand Shawnee moved down into what is now Alabama in the mid-and late 1700s. The Shawnees were animists and did not come from a long history of town living and large scale agriculture. The Creeks in Alabama had formerly been allies of the French, as had been the Shawnees before 1763. A few of the Creeks and Shawnees had become Roman Catholics, but most now practiced a religion that blended Shawnee animism, with Creek monotheistic traditions.
At the beginning of the War of 1812, British agents and Northern Shawnee leaders such as Tecumseh exacerbated the difference between the Creeks in Georgia and those in northern Alabama. Tecumseh’s mother was an Alabama Creek. A civil war broke out when many Alabama Creeks became allies of the British in defiance of the Creek National Council. The rebels called themselves Redsticks and they attacked loyalist Creek farmsteads. Eventually, whites were also killed.
The United States declared war on the Redsticks after whites were killed at Fort Mims massacre. Already a regular army Creek regiment had been raised from Creeks in northeast and southeast Georgia, plus South Carolina to fight British Rangers from Florida, who were attacking coastal plantations. Many more West Georgia Creeks volunteered for military duty to fight the Redsticks. A Creek mikko, William McIntosh, was appointed a Brigadier General in the United States Army. Creek, Cherokee and Choctaw men who joined his regiment were promised that they could stay in their present homeland forever, if they fought the Redsticks. This turned out to be a lie.
Andrew Jackson’s Tennessee Volunteers would have probably been annihilated without their army being doubled with Friendly Creeks and Cherokees. On several occasions Creek or Yuchi officers saved Jackson’s life. In gratitude he hired four agronomists to determine what portions of the Creek Nation were best suited for growing cotton. They drew a map. After the Redsticks were defeated, Jackson called his Georgia Creek allies together and informed him that they must give up over 20 million acres of potential cotton land, as punishment “for allowing the Redsticks to rebel.” Jackson also quietly sent word back to Georgia that encouraged home guard and vigilante groups to burn the farms of Jackson’s own Creek allies.
The chaos and violence of Redstick War created an environment in which hooligans were able to destroy Friendly Creek properties in Georgia, assault their women or even murder whole families with impunity. Surviving Creek families were forced to flee the northeastern part of their nation with few of their possessions. Their actions almost destroyed over a century of interracial harmony.
Indian Removal Period: 1817-1827
Many Creek veterans from West Georgia came home from fighting for the United States to see their buildings in ashes and their livestock stolen. Some came home to bury their families. In 1818 a corridor that ran from Habersham County in the mountains to present day Albany in southwest Georgia, was ceded to the United States. The future boundaries of Coweta County were included in this land cession.
The European population in western Georgia before 1821 was primarily composed of people, whose families had intermarried with the Creeks. Any person, whose mother was Creek was automatically a citizen of the Creek Confederacy, if they so desired. Creek women owned all the land and domestic buildings. A Creek woman married to a European or African man could bring her family to live on any unoccupied location within the Creek Nation. Until the Bureau of Indian Affairs got involved with tribal government, the Creeks did not link race with tribal citizenship. Any family of any race could be invited to become citizens, if its members ascribed to the Creek’s monotheistic religion and the laws of the National Council. Traditional Creek religion is quite similar to beliefs and practices to the religion of Israel prior to the building of Solomon’s Temple.
Accounts from this era present a picture of ethnic harmony on both sides of the 1818 cession. Many mixed-blood Creek families took state citizenship so they could remain in their homes. Their descendants form a significant portion of the newly annexed territory. The Creeks were intelligent and civilized. Their day to day lifestyles were quiet similar to those of their white neighbors. They hoped to return to the profitable business of selling meat and vegetables to the white city folk. Had the people living in West Georgia been left alone, today they probably would be characterized as a predominantly meztiso population.
Southeastern planters, however, were greedy for more land. Politicians focused their energies and money on a few Creek leaders in West Georgia headed by William McIntosh . . . who happened to also be the first cousin of Governor Troup. In 1825, Troup, McIntosh and some white real estate speculators set up a partnership. Troup and McIntosh arranged a treaty conference at McIntosh’s new Indian Springs Hotel. The elected leadership of the Creek Nation was not invited. McIntosh, his sons, his son-in-laws and some of his Creek buddies were paid large sums of money to sign a treaty with Georgia that sold all Creek lands in the state for a cheap price. The signers reserved square mile reserves for themselves that were then sold to the real estate investment partnership. They did not reserve the Ocmulgee Bottoms, which had been promised to the Creeks for eternity.
As soon as they heard about the scam, the Creek National Council members ordered all signers of the Indian Springs Treaty executed. McIntosh was first on the list. He was killed on the grounds of the McIntosh Reserve near Coweta County and is buried there. His son, Chilly, was one of the few that got away from the execution squads.
Chilly McIntosh gathered up all West Georgia Creeks who wanted to get away from both the Georgia hooligans and the Alabama Redsticks then headed toward Indian Territory along with their slaves. Estimates vary from 700 to 3000 as the number who left with the McIntosh Party. Being the first Creeks in the future state of Oklahoma, they were able to pick out the prime locations for growing cotton. Most became wealthy cotton planters.
The Federal Government ruled that the 1825 Treaty of Indians Springs was fraudulent. By this time, West Georgia had been overrun by squatters, so the Creek National Council had no hope of retaining any of their territory. A new treaty with more favorable terms was negotiated that included the Creek’s permanent ownership of the six square mile, Ocmulgee Reserve. However, by this time it had been gobbled up by politically powerful real estate speculators. Technically, the Muscogee-Creek Nation still owns all of Macon, GA, southwest of the Ocmulgee River. This tract included the Macon Coliseum, Ocmulgee National Monument, the regional airport, and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
During 1834-36 approximately 20,000 Creeks migrated from Alabama to the Indian Territory. However, at least 20,000 remained in the east in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Due to continued harassment in the Southeast, a trickle of Creeks continued to migrate to Oklahoma for the next 35 years.
Although the section of Oklahoma designated for the Creeks looks very similar to West Georgia, there was one minor problem. The Federal government intentionally located the Creeks in a region that was claimed by six “wild” Western tribes, including the Lakota-Sioux. Federal military officials assumed that the western tribes would soon exterminate the people, who had so terrified Andrew Jackson because of their military skills.
The assumptions about the Creek’s imminent demise proved to be overly optimistic. Initially, the deported Creeks lost many loved ones to Indian raids, but soon learned what was happening. The newly reconstituted Creek Nation formed the famous Creek Mounted Rifles. It simultaneously defeated the six wild tribes and became the police force of the Southern Plains. When the Lakota heard about the arrival of the Creeks, they dispatched a large army to eradicate them. The two Indian nations fought a large battle, which resulted in the Lakota’s first major defeat in the history of their tribe. The second time around the Lakota’s started a battle to maintain their honor then quickly retreated back to the Dakota’s. The Lakotas invaded Oklahoma a third time, However, when they saw the Creek battle flag, they just turned and ran. It was a lot more fun fighting blue coats.
The Creek Mounted Rifles became the prototype for Mosby’s Rangers and Nathan Bedford Forest’s cavalry in the Civil War plus the Australian Mounted Rifles in the Boer War. Chilly McIntosh and a Georgia-born Cherokee Stand Watie, became the last Confederate field officers commanding units in the field at the end of the Civil War.
Approximately 1/3 of the Oklahoma Creek Nation (+/- 9,000 people) died during the Civil War. Most of the casualties were women, children and elderly imprisoned in Union concentration camps in Kansas. They were intentionally starved to death. When an Eastern newspaper reporter asked the Union general in charge of the camps why he was allowing innocent civilians to dies on such a horrific scale, he responded, “Dead Injuns won’t need their land, will they?”
The lost beasts that roamed Britain during the ice age
The last mammoth roamed through a Siberia-like Britain at the end of the last ice age. Woolly mammoths were about the size of a modern African elephant, growing to more than 9.8ft (3m) tall and weighing around 6 tonnes.
The thick fur that covered their bodies helped them survive the ferocious cold and wind of glacial Britain. The mammoth's coat was made up of an outer layer of long wiry hairs around 12in (30cm) long, with a shorter, thick, woolly layer underneath.
The exact reason for the mammoths' decline is unclear, but there are several possibilities. For one, humans were becoming sophisticated hunters. Intelligent groups working systematically to find and kill meant the woolly mammoth &ndash one of the most enormous walking meals our ancestors had ever seen &ndash didn't stand much of a chance.
Sudden swings in temperature toward the end of the last Ice Age made life hard for these enormous beasts too. On top of the natural changes in climate, mammoths were probably losing more of their habitat due to other human activities, as our ancestors began to cut down forests and establish small settlements.
After more than 100,000 years of surviving encroaching and retreating ice, huge swings in temperatures, and rising and falling seas, the mammoth finally died out from the British Isles around 11,000 years ago.
Woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis)
The rhinos of ice age Britain, like the mammoths, were covered in thick fur to help them survive the vicious cold.
Like today's rhinos, this ancient species was massive and muscled, but these powerful creatures were herbivores. They had a similar low-set head on a thick neck with a long curved horn which they used for charging and fighting off predators rather than chasing prey.
Woolly rhinos arrived in Britain later than the woolly mammoths, and their populations dwindled there earlier too. In La Cotte, a ravine on the island of Jersey in the Channel between England and France, archaeologists found heaps of woolly rhino remains in a series of digs throughout the twentieth century. The remains suggest our ancestors had either been hunting or scavenging for rhino flesh.
"There were heaps of shoulder blades, all piled up," says Adrian Lister of the Natural History Museum in London, UK. "Some of them had knife marks on, as if humans or Neanderthals had been scraping the meat off them."
Although most of these remains are found on the island of Jersey, this was once part of a land bridge between Britain and continental Europe. When the ice age was at its coldest, sea levels were more than 330ft (100m) lower than today, exposing what's now the seabed.
This area between France and Britain has been called Doggerland. It was the route that rhinos and other giants of the ice age would have taken to and from the warmer climates of southern Europe.
Straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus)
This 13ft (4m) tall, 13-tonne elephant was significantly bigger than the woolly mammoth, if not so robust in the cold. Its long tusks looked like spikes.
Over the last half-million years they wandered in and out of Britain through Doggerland, heading to warmer climates when temperatures plummeted and returning to the north during warmer phases.
Like many of the giants of the ice ages, the straight-tusked elephant population had huge ranges. At its peak, its habitat spanned from central Asia in the east to Britain in the west. They could migrate massive distances when a shifting climate made it necessary, giving them a better chance of survival.
Britain lost the straight-tusked elephant for good around 120,000 years ago, towards the end of a particularly cold period. However they lingered on in warmer parts of Europe for tens of thousands of years, eventually being driven to the Iberian peninsula when humans became established in Europe.
Narrow-nosed rhino (Stephanorhinus hemitoechus)
This relatively unknown 6,600lb (3,000kg) herbivore grazed its way through Britain around the same time as the straight-tusked elephant. These beasts were around the same size as the endangered white rhino, with a shoulder height of 5-7ft (1.5&ndash2m) and a body 10-13ft (3&ndash4m) long.
The narrow-nosed rhino's habitat stretched as far to the east as China, but the species seems to have been commonest in Britain.
On the Gower Peninsula in south Wales, a series of caves punctuate the old sea line, which was a lot higher during the warm periods when narrow-nosed rhinos lived in Britain. Fossilised remains of narrow-nosed rhinos, as well as straight-tusked elephants, accumulated in these caves for thousands of years.
Narrow-nosed rhinos foraged in forested areas as well as open grassland. They were most comfortable in the warm spells when the ice retreated, although it took a protracted and bitter stretch of cold to push them out of Britain entirely.
It's been suggested that humans helped push them to extinction, but there isn't enough evidence to settle the question. Dramatic fluctuations in climate, and the changing landscape that followed, are likely to have played a role.
The narrow-nosed rhino had a very slow reproductive cycle, as did many of the ice age giants. This meant young only came along very infrequently, so populations would have struggled to replace themselves under pressure from hunting humans and Neanderthals.
Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus)
Spanning 11.5ft (3.5m) from tip to tip, the ancient giant deer of the ice age had the largest antlers of any creature alive or dead. Each was as long as a person and weighed about 44lb (20kg).
The deer itself was more than a match to heft these weapons. Irish elk could have a body mass of 1320-1540lb (600-700kg), about the size of an Alaskan moose.
The archaeologists that first found the giant antlers were amazed and puzzled.
"People thought, how did these creatures move around with such enormous antlers? Wouldn't they be constantly bashing into trees?" says Jens-Christian Svenning of Aarhus University in Denmark. "But in these cold periods there were glaciers and tundra, and it was pretty open. That's why these creatures could do so well."
That is, until Neanderthals and humans came on the scene. Our ancestors soon developed tactics to hunt and overcome the elk, each of which was an enticingly large source of food.
Their antlers then became the Irish elk's downfall. Hunting groups could chase the deer into forested areas where its antlers would slow it down or injure it, or simply trap the animal before killing it with spears.
Scimitar-toothed cat (Homotheriumlatidens)
Deadly upper canines dropped down to the bottom of its lower jaw, with an incredibly sharp serrated edge for tearing through its prey. Its long front legs and sloping back give it a posture primed to leap. This bulky predator could reach up to 5.5 ft (1.7m) long and weighed in the region of 220lb (100kg).
The scimitar-toothed cat is a type of sabre-toothed cat, which are sometimes called sabre-toothed tigers. Actually these prehistoric felines didn't have much in common with tigers. They are more closely related to today's lions, with comparable size, bulk, and musculature.
They arrived in Britain nearly 0.75 million years ago, when the climate was relatively warm. It's less certain when they left. They may have gone extinct in the British Isles just a few tens of thousands of years ago. In 2000, fishermen dredged up a jawbone from the North Sea, which seems to be from about 28,000 years ago.
It's likely that the cats survived for thousands of years longer by moving south to warmer and more hospitable parts of Europe.
Cave bear (Ursus spelaeus)
The bears that lived in Britain through the ice ages were bigger than the largest bears alive today, the grizzlies. At 5ft (1.5m) tall at the shoulder and nearly 10ft (3m) long, they were formidable giants, weighing in at 880lb (400kg).
Their teeth and short, strong claws allowed them to take on some of the most fearsome predators of their era. The enormous bears were mostly herbivorous, but could eat meat if it was available. They wouldn't often have eaten humans, but we did our best to eat the bears.
"They were quite actively hunted by humans and Neanderthals," says Svenning. We also competed with the bears for space. "The caves were occupied by one species and then the other would come to drive it away."
The idea of driving an angry bear seven times your size out of a cave might seem ludicrously dangerous. But in the depths of an ice age it may well have been better to risk the bears than to stay out in the open.
Cave lion (Panthera leo spelaea)
Living at the same time as the bears, the cave lion was a far more dangerous animal. These were the largest carnivores of ice age Britain, standing 4.5ft (1.4m) tall at the shoulder. At their largest they could weigh as much as a cave bear.
"We would have avoided them like the plague," says Lister. "You don't hunt a cave lion."
Preserved cave art shows that our ancestors knew these beasts well.
Their paintings show that the males of the species didn't have the familiar majestic mane of their modern African relatives. Instead, a thick dense coat covered them to protect against the cold.
This subspecies of lion was 25% larger than modern African lions. This size and strength meant that, if lack of food pushed them to it, they could hunt the largest and most deadly prey. When the starving predator found an occupied cave it would fight anything within, including humans or even a gigantic cave bear.
Cave hyena (Crocuta crocuta spelaea)
Like the other cave dwellers of the ice age, this ancient breed of hyena was an exaggeratedly large version of its modern counterpart.
Cave hyenas could weigh up to 285lb (130kg). Their surviving relatives, the famous laughing hyenas of the African savannah, are usually closer to the 130-150lb (60-70kg) range.
The cave hyena had an awkward raised posture because of its long front legs. Its low-hanging head gave it the loping gait and boar-like posture of the modern hyena.
Their massive molars could crush bone and helped them hang onto and incapacitate the largest of prey. They're known to have even hunted woolly mammoths, although they were also voracious scavengers.
Cave hyenas lived and hunted in social groups, with a pack numbering up to 30 individuals. Archaeologists have found more than 20,000 cave hyena teeth at Tornewton Cave in Devon, showing that clans inhabited these caves for many generations.
In the bitter cold, access to cave space could mean life or death for an animal. "Humans and hyenas were competing for cave space," says Lister. "We find layers of hyena remains and then a layer of human remains."
Aurochs (Bos primigenius)
These creatures were the ancestors of modern cattle. They were domesticated once in Europe and once in south Asia. Taming an aurochs would have been an incredibly difficult and possibly deadly task, which is why it only happened twice.
They were huge bull-like creatures that came to Britain over the land bridge from Europe about 400,000 years ago.
Aurochs had thick, curving horns, which their skulls were specially adapted to support. They were about 5.2-6ft (1.6-1.8m) tall at the shoulder, but their size fluctuated over the years, varying from 3,300lb (1,500kg) to an enormous 6,600lb (3,000kg) at its peak.
Aurochs were one of the few giant animals to persist in Britain after the end of the last icy period about 11,000 years ago. "They survived very well in other parts of Europe even up to the 1600s," says Svenning.
But as our ancestors started to build settlements, cultivate crops and breed animals, the aurochs were slowly pushed out. "Eventually the aurochs became globally extinct after a long, long history of human persecution," says Svenning. Only their domesticated descendants survived.
This story is a part of BBC Britain &ndash a new series focused on exploring this extraordinary island, one story at a time. Readers outside of the UK can see every BBC Britain story by heading to the Britain homepage you also can see our latest stories by following us on Facebook and Twitter.
New Hybrid Whale Discovered in Arctic
Antarctic minke whales are mating with Arctic cousins, DNA shows.
They may be polar opposites, but something is attracting two species of minke whales, producing at least one hybrid offspring, a new study says.
A cross between an Antarctic minke whale and a northern minke whale was recently discovered during a DNA analysis of whales caught by Norwegian hunters.
Normally the two whale species—both of which can reach 35 feet (11 meters) in length—undertake seasonal migrations that separate them by many miles of ocean.
Northern minkes head toward the North Pole in spring and ply waters up to the edge of Arctic ice during the summer. In autumn these whales head south, nearly as far as the Equator, to spend the winter. (See whale pictures.)
Antarctic whales follow a similar pattern, moving between Antarctic ice and warmer mid-latitudes with the seasons.
But because the two hemispheres' seasons are opposite, the minke species don't share near-equatorial waters at the same time. Thus, they were never thought to meet—until now.
Minkes have been hunted extensively since the 1930s, and the few nations that still practice whaling—including Norway, Greenland, and Japan—target them today.
Soon after Norwegians resumed commercial whale hunting in 1993—following a brief moratorium—the country established a DNA registry to analyze whale kills and help ensure that whale products come from legal sources.
Geneticist Kevin Glover was recently analyzing whale DNA when he came across a surprise—a whale hunted in the northeastern Atlantic in 2007 had the genetic blueprint of a hybrid, with an Antarctic minke mother.
Glover's colleague then told him an interesting story relayed by a whaling vessel's scientific observer nearly 15 years ago.
"He said there was a very strange-looking individual taken back in 1996—it didn't have the white patch on its pectoral flippers like the [northern minke whales do]," said Glover, of the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen, Norway. "I wonder if it could be the same sort."
So Glover analyzed the DNA of the 1996 whale captured in the North Atlantic, and found a shocker: It was a pure Antarctic whale. The sample had been overlooked because the DNA archive was in its infancy when the whale was captured.
This Antarctic whale in the Arctic provided further evidence that Antarctic minkes can migrate to the home waters of their northern relatives and—as the hybrid shows—even mate with them, according to the study, published December 22 in the journal PLoS ONE.
Drop in Food Driving Whale Migration?
Still, the genes leave a lot of unanswered questions—Is the hybrid whale a fluke, or the beginning of a trend? No one knows, but Glover said that his whale biologist colleague Nils Øien has an interesting theory.
Japanese studies showed that the numbers of Antarctic minke in the Southern Hemisphere appeared to drop significantly between the 1980s and 1990s. Other studies show that supplies of the krill—tiny marine crustaceans—that fuel the Antarctic food chain also dropped during this period.
"Japanese research has even shown that the fat layer on whales down there has decreased—not to the point of malnutrition, but suggesting a decreased access to food," Glover said.
"So we speculate that the amount of krill and available food has decreased, and maybe as a result the whales are starting to go scouting for food.
"It could be that these individuals are straying away from their territory in the search for food, and a few of them may have found their way to the Arctic Circle."
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