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David Attenborough’s impact on Swindon quarry

Hills Quarry’s mammoth graveyard, shown in a documentary featuring David Attenborough, is set for further exploration next year.  

Hills Quarry site, located around Swindon in England, has announced its location will be subject to further research in 2024 as part of an effort to uncover more mammoth fossils.  

Hills Quarry has been an aggregate supplier for the area since its establishment in 1900. It is known for its aggregate supply and ready-mix cement from its quarry site before it changed in recent years.  

In 2017, amateur fossil hunters Sally and Neville Hollingworth uncovered a mammoth tusk. The discovery, made in a quarry in Swindon rather than Siberia, captured the attention of Sir David Attenborough and university academics. 

Sir David Attenborough’s documentary premiered in 2021 as the legendary TV personality joined a team of professors, including Professor Ben Garrod, to examine the quarry site.  

Garrod told BBC Science Focus about how he came to get David Attenborough involved in the project.  

“I showed him a series of photos when we were at a conference together, and it wasn’t hard to hook him on such an amazing project,” he said in 2021.  

“For me, to work with David on such a big project was always going to be amazing, but what is most lovely about this project is that it showcases the science. 

“We don’t do that enough in media, unfortunately. It’s often just the end product that’s shown. This shows the process going on behind the scenes, like those 10-minute ‘How we filmed…’ shorts at the end of the big, glossy shows David usually does. This is really seeing who’s involved, what they’re doing, how the discoveries have been made.” 

A 200,000-year-old mammoth graveyard was found in 2019 and 2021. The remains of steppe mammoth tusks, a pygmy mammoth tooth, several bison vertebrae, a rib and jawbone, wild horse ribs and a partially complete tooth from a cave or brown bear have been uncovered at the site.   

Hills Quarry
Palaeontologists excavating a mammoth tusk found at the Hills Quarry site near Swindon.

The tusk from the 2019 dig can be seen at the Bristol History Museum. 

Hills Quarry Products group director Peter Andrew said it was important for Hills to be involved in work like this. 

“Quarrying is fundamental in recreating biodiverse habitats, wet woodlands and enhancing nature,” he said in a statement.

“Whilst this is not always seen, it highlights the scientific importance of this site and how cooperation can benefit both the quarrying and scientific industries.” 

All the new material will be conserved at Yorkshire Natural History Museum. The latest investigation, called Mammoth 2.0, is aimed at uncovering more mammoth bones. This will help researchers and archaeologists know more about their herds’ size and social structure and how this compares to modern elephants.  

The excavation involved dewatering the area using water pumps. After the investigation, the area was restored as a temporary lake. 

“It was a true pleasure to meet Mike Hill and the team at Hills. If it weren’t for their support and shared vision of the scientific importance of this site, this multidisciplinary systematic excavation would not have been possible,” Neo Jurassica director James Hogg said.  

 Andrew said the company was excited for the next stage of the excavation to start next year.  

“It is a fantastic site, and it just keeps on giving. We are looking forward to next year when we will welcome more teams of experts to carry out the next part of the excavation.” 

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