Ice Ages in Oxfordshire
Discover specimens that are not currently on display
A number of Oxfordshire's fossil sites date to the colder, glacial periods of the Pleistocene. During these freezing spells, much of Britain's landmass would have been inhospitable to wildlife, covered in kilometre-thick ice sheets.
The most recent of the glacial periods in Britain is known as the Devensian. During the Middle Devensian, the climate warmed slightly, allowing grasslands to spread over the UK. Despite the bitter cold, these vast, grassy plains were able to support huge herds of grazing mammals. This would have included woolly mammoths, woolly rhinos, steppe bison, horse, and reindeer, accompanied by carnivores like spotted hyaenas, wolves, lions, and brown bears. So far, we have uncovered over 1000 fossils of large mammals in Oxfordshire that date to Middle Devensian (30,000 – 60,000 years ago), a number of which have been found in gravel pits like those at Sutton Courtenay. As well as finding direct evidence of species through fossilised bones, the characteristic gnaw-marks of hyaena teeth on woolly rhino and bison bones tell us who would have been eating who! Findings of stone tools from this era prove that humans were active in the landscape too. These tools were probably made by some of the last Neanderthal populations in Europe, just before our own species, Homo sapiens, first arrived in Britain ~40,000 years ago.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History is home to many fossils from the Pleistocene, including those that have been collected from local sites. A few of these sites are marked below...
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