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Had you arrived 400,000 years ago, the Thames Estuary would offer a world-class safari. Lions, rhinos, monkeys, and elephants all quenched their thirst near what is now Ebbsfleet. Some never left. One massive bull elephant was brought down by a pack of particularly dangerous predators. As well as daring to take on the massive, 4m-high beast, these hunters picked its carcass clean with flints that they discarded at the scene. This butchery site reveals a rare glimpse of Palaeolithic hominin activity in Britain.

these hunters picked its carcass clean with flints that they discarded at the scene.

A magnificent Anglo-Saxon hall discovered at Lyminge in Kent would have hosted more refined dining. One of the star finds of 2012, the royal hall is the first of its kind to be dug for a generation. The Kings of Kent, possibly even King Aethelbert himself, may well have been entertained beneath its roof.

Of course, the Romans also knew how to have a good time. Recent work at the sumptuous Chedworth villa has shed new light on life within its walls. As well as appeasing the gods, visitors could relax in the baths, enjoy fine dining, or select a spear from the arsenal of hunting weapons and ape their Palaeolithic predecessors.

Finds being recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme also reveal pursuits both pleasurable and pious. We cast an eye over some fascinating artefacts that demonstrate just how fluid function and meaning can be over time.

Finally, this month our sister-magazine Current World Archaeology celebrates a decade of bringing us the latest digs and discoveries from around the globe. Meanwhile, Oxford Archaeology, one of the UK’s first archaeological units, turns 40. Happy birthday both!

Our contributors this month

MAKING A KILLING FRANCIS WENBAN-SMITH Dr Wenban-Smith is Principal Research Fellow in the Dept of Archaeology, University of Southampton. Specialising in the Palaeolithic and Pleistocene, he has a particular interest in Neanderthal colonisation of Britain, and the lithic technology of early hominins.

DISCOVERING AN ANGLOSAXON ROYAL HALL ALEXANDRA KNOX Dr Knox is the postdoctoral research assistant on the Lyminge Archaeological Project. Her involvement began back in 2008 as a PhD student of Anglo-Saxon archaeology at the University of Reading.

ARTEFACTS IN THE LIMELIGHT ROB COLLINS Dr Collins is the Finds Liaison Officer in North East England for the PAS, based at the Great North Museum in Newcastle. He also has an enduring (but unhealthy) interest in Roman frontiers.

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