Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story
13 February – 28 September 2014
Drawing on 12 years of research by an extended network of scientists, this exhibition tells the story of the changing faces and spaces of prehistoric Britain.
Britain has one of the richest yet underappreciated records of early human history in the world. While human fossils are rare, ancient Britons left behind tools and animal bones in river deposits and caves that reveal details of their way of life.
For more than a decade, a 50-strong team of archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists from over 20 research institutions have collaborated on this project, analysing key finds from sites such as Kents Cavern in Devon, Pontnewydd in North Wales and Happisburgh in Norfolk.
The research yielded an array of surprising facts, such as that, for most of the last one million years Britain has not been an island. Over this time, it has swung between multiple ice-ages and Mediterranean-like climates, meaning humans could establish a temporary foothold, but would then be swept away.
In fact, there were 100,000 year gaps when people completely deserted Britain, before re-inhabiting it once again. Today's Britons are the product of the tenth attempt humans made to re-populate the land, only 12,000 years ago. This makes it one of the youngest populations in the world, compared to Australians, Africans and other European neighbours.
Britain's landscape and wildlife is also examined in the display; from hyenas inhabiting Yorkshire to mammoths in Kensington, lions and rhinos in Trafalgar Square and hippos swimming in the Thames.