Couple accidentally uncover mammoth graveyard and now David Attenborough is their pal


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Neville and Sally Hollingworth made their amazing fossil find during a walk near their home Swindon in Wiltshire four years ago when they saw ‘something odd’ sticking out of a gravel pit

David Attenborough
David Attenborough and fossil hunters Neville and Sally Hollingworth

Amateur fossil hunters who uncovered a prehistoric graveyard full of mammoth bones have told how the find led to a friendship with Sir David Attenborough.

Neville and Sally Hollingworth made their amazing fossil find during a walk by the river four years ago.

But it led to even bigger things – a bond with the broadcasting legend.

The discovery of a lifetime came when the pair spotted something odd sticking out of the mud at a freshly dug gravel
pit near their home in Swindon, Wilts.

It turned out to be the top of a huge fossilised leg bone. And when they searched some more, they unearthed a huge haul of tusks and bones dating back more than 200,000 years.

David Attenborough and fossil hunters with the Mammoth Graveyard
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Sir David, 95, was so keen to see the collection he got his chauffeur to drive him from his home in Richmond, South West London.

Sally, 50, told the Sunday Mirror : “I thought I’d be terrified meeting Sir David. I stood looking out of the net curtains, like you do, with a bead of sweat dripping down my back.

“But then I thought, ‘Right, just treat him like you would if your grandad turned up.’ And as soon as he said hello, it was like I’d known him for ages.

“He made us feel really at ease. He stood at this table in the kitchen having a cup of tea and some cake we’d made with mammoths on it.

Experts dig away at the Mammoth graveyard
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“I took a step back and listened to Nev and David talk about the first fossils they found. It was two blokes talking about their boyhoods. It gave me goosebumps.

“Sir David is a lovely man.

“We consider him to be a friend.”

Public engagement manager Neville, 60, said: “We did a fairly rigorous clean-up before he arrived, but we didn’t make it overly clean.

“We thought, ‘He’s got to take us as he finds us.’

“I don’t think he’d been to Swindon before. It’s not a place you would visit, unless you’re a fan of roundabouts.

“Sir David is a perfect gentleman. He’s just like someone you’d talk to in a pub.

Fossil hunters Neville and Sally Hollingworth with David Attenborough
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“He was blown away by our collection. I don’t think he’d seen anything like it before, not on this scale anyway.”

They took Sir David to the quarry where they found the bones, along with primitive hand axes and blades.

Neville said: “We were there for most of the day. He didn’t want to leave. We were humbled by his visit.” Since then Sally and Neville have turned their house into a pop-up museum.

There are cases full of fossils, a pair of dinosaur curtains and a picture of Sir David next to the fish tank.

And their usual Christmas tree has been replaced by a mammoth-themed one.

Sally Hollingworth shares a joke with Sir David
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Transport manager Sally is now “Sally-saurus” to her friends and Neville is known as the Dino Detective.

In October they met up with Sir David again in London, where he was working on a documentary that explores how the Wiltshire mammoths met their ends.

They have just sent the star a woolly mammoth-themed Christmas card.

And Sir David has written to the couple.

Neville said: “He uses the old snail mail. It seems more meaningful if it’s a letter.”

  • Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard will be aired on BBC One later this month.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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