ARCHAEOLOGISTS have declared bones found in south Cumbria as the earliest known human remains in northern Britain.

Kents Bank Cavern, on the north side of Morecambe Bay, was excavated in the 1990s and many of the bones found there are now housed in Barrow-in-Furness’ Dock Museum.

Scientists from Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Nottingham have analysed some of the bones and have now published their findings in the Journal of Quaternary Science.

The study found that a fragment of human leg bone (below), which was carbon dated to just over 10,000 years old, is the earliest known human bone from northern Britain after the retreat of polar conditions from the last Ice Age.

Archaeologist and PhD student Ian Smith, from LJMU’s School of Natural Science and Psychology, explained why the find was of archaeological interest.

“Previous cave burials of humans from around this date have been in southern England, with later dates further north,” he said. “However, the date of this human femur is contemporary with the earliest postglacial human bones from caves in the south — suggesting similar ritual behaviour in both Cumbrian and Somerset caves at the same time.”

Mr Smith added they had also dated bones of elk, a large deer species no longer found in Britain, and horse, showing that they came from a ‘warm snap’ at the end of the last Ice Age, between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago.

“We know that humans were in southern Cumbria at this time as their stone tools have been found — but as yet no human bones have been dated to this time.

“Clearly horse and elk would have been good prey for these human hunters, but there is no direct evidence on the Kent’s Bank bones to suggest that they were killed by people.”

Dr Hannah O’Regan, an archaeologist at the University of Nottingham, said: “Caves can preserve bones which would have decayed elsewhere, and once the material is excavated museums keep them for future study. Without these, we wouldn’t have known about our earliest northerner.”

Sabine Skae, collections manager at The Dock Museum, added: “This collection tells an important story of the changing environment and early human activity in Cumbria.”