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David Bricker
University Communications

Claire Gilby
Natural History Museum
011 44 20-7942-5106

Bahia Dawlatly
Leverhulme Trust
011 44 20-7042-9875

Last modified: Monday, October 5, 2009

Early humans' forays into Europe the subject of international $1.81 million project

Oct. 5, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Bloomington will join seven partners in Britain and the Netherlands to investigate early human settlements in Europe.

The $1.81 million (1.1 million pound) Leverhulme Trust grant, spearheaded by the Natural History Museum in London, will be distributed to collaborators over four years. Paleontologist David Polly oversees IU Bloomington's participation in the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project. Among his several contributions, Polly will use diverse information to map Europe ecologically -- so he and his colleagues can get a better of idea of what human populations in different parts of Europe might have experienced.

Polly image

Photo by Heather Brogden

Paleontologist and Associate Professor of Geological Sciences David Polly

Print-Quality Photo

"We'll begin to use the data we have collected on the mammal faunas, ages and other aspects of the sites to assemble a larger, more coherent picture of how climate cycles and environmental changes affected the mammal communities of the past," Polly said.

This latest grant follows two others, also led by the Natural History Museum. The project's first phase focused primarily on Britain. The second phase extended the study area to parts of northeastern Europe. In the third phase, "Dispersals of early humans: adaptations, frontiers, and new territories," scientists will attempt to construct a fuller record of human dispersal in Europe, identify the natural factors controlling dispersal, track population increases and decreases, and pinpoint the humans' successful and not-so-successful strategies for survival.

"It is fantastic news that the Leverhulme Trust is continuing to fund AHOB," said Chris Stringer, Natural History Museum Merit Researcher and project leader. "We will continue to work in East Anglia looking for evidence of even older occupation than that at Pakefield, near Lowestoft, where we have found evidence of the oldest known Britons. Hopefully we'll find out even more about Britain's earliest colonizers, and possibly even their fossil remains."

IU Bloomington's Polly has been part of the project since its 2001 inception.

"The third phase of the project builds on and tests a lot of what was found in the first two phases," Polly said. "The project has now expanded well beyond Britain to help link the findings with a bigger picture of human occupation of Europe. What happened in Britain was an important component of understanding humans during the Pleistocene because it is located on what was the northeastern periphery of our geographic range. Changes in habitation in response to climatic cycles happened first in places like Britain."

Modern humans are believed to have lived through several ice ages since first arriving in Europe. The most recent ice age was about 15,000 years ago. It is believed that environmental stresses spurred humans to innovate new technologies.

The researchers will also use a range of new scientific tools, including bone "finger printing" using rare Earth element analysis, aminostratigraphy (geographic mapping of amino acid isotopes), and ecological niche modeling, among others.

The Leverhulme Trust, established at the wish of William Hesketh Lever, the first Viscount Leverhulme, makes awards for the support of research and education. The London-based trust emphasizes individuals and encompasses all subject areas. With annual funding of some 50 million pounds (about $82.2 million), the trust is among the largest of all subject providers of research funding in the United Kingdom.

Winner of Visit London's 2008 Kids Love London Best Family Fun Award, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries.

For more information about the project, please visit its official Web site:

To speak with Polly, please contact David Bricker, University Communications, at 812-856-9035 or To speak with AHOB Director Chris Stringer, contact Claire Gilby at the Natural History Museum's press office at 011 44 20 7942 5106 (if calling from the U.S.) or or To speak with a representative of the Leverhulme Trust, contact Bahia Dawlatly at 011 44 20 7042 9875 (if calling from the U.S.) or