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David Attenborough explores The Mammoth Graveyard in BBC documentary

Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard - air date and how to watch online

Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard. Credit: BBC / Windfall Films / Julian Schwanitz
Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard. Credit: BBC / Windfall Films / Julian Schwanitz

Sir David Attenborough explores a mammoth graveyard near Swindon in a BBC documentary.

He joins Ben Garrod and a team of investigators at a mammoth graveyard near Swindon, to explore whether Neanderthals might have killed the ice age beasts.

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Four years ago a couple walking round a freshly dug gravel pit just outside Swindon noticed something unusual protruding from the mud. It was the top of a huge fossilised leg bone of what turned out to be a mammoth. Sally and Neville Hollingworth, both keen amateur fossil hunters, had stumbled across the discovery of a lifetime - a mammoth graveyard in the old prehistoric riverbed of the Thames.

They returned to dig up more mammoth bones and tusks, but what made their finds even more exciting was Sally’s discovery of a stone ‘hand axe’ made by an early human. Unlike most mammoth discoveries that date back tens of thousands of years, Sally and Neville’s finds appear to be hundreds of thousands of years old - and it could offer an extremely rare glimpse of life deep in the Ice Ages.

When Sir David Attenborough heard about their remarkable finds he was keen to see them for himself. Since he was a boy he has been smitten with the lure of hunting fossils. From the moment of arrival at Sally and Neville’s home in Swindon, it is hard to know who was more excited, David, or Sally and Neville.

Afterwards they join biologist Prof. Ben Garrod and a team of archaeologists and palaeontologists as they carefully excavate the quarry where the bones were found. The site raises many questions: Why were the mammoths here? How did they die? Could the ancient humans have killed them? Or was there some kind of catastrophic event?

Sir David and Ben meet with leading experts in the fields of evolution, both human and mammoth to grasp a greater understanding of our relationship with this iconic ice-age giant.

Laboratory dating of soil samples suggests the site dates back to around 215,000 years ago - a time deep in the Ice Ages that we know very little about. As the team finds more stone tools lying side by side with more mammoth bones, they realise this could be a once-in-a-generation discovery, offering a unique window into prehistoric Britain.

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Attenborough And The Mammoth Graveyard airs on Monday, 2 May 2022 at 8PM on BBC One. The repeat originally aired in 2021.

You can watch the one-off special online via on BBC iPlayer here.

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