AbstractIt is commonly accepted that some of the latest dates for Neanderthal fossils and Mousterian industries are found south of
the Ebro valley in Iberia at ca. 36 ka calBP (calibrated radiocarbon date ranges). In contrast, to the north of the valley the Mousterian disappears shortly
before the Proto-Aurignacian appears at ca.
42 ka calBP. The latter is most likely produced by anatomically modern
humans. However, two-thirds of dates from the south
are radiocarbon dates, a technique that is
particularly sensitive to carbon contaminants of a younger age that can
to remove using routine pretreatment
protocols. We have attempted to test the reliability of chronologies of
11 southern Iberian
Middle and early Upper Paleolithic sites.
Only two, Jarama VI and Zafarraya, were found to contain material that
reliably dated. In both sites, Middle
Paleolithic contexts were previously dated by radiocarbon to less than
42 ka calBP.
Using ultrafiltration to purify faunal
bone collagen before radiocarbon dating, we obtain ages at least 10 ka 14C
years older, close to or beyond the limit of the radiocarbon method for
the Mousterian at Jarama VI and Neanderthal fossils
at Zafarraya. Unless rigorous pretreatment
protocols have been used, radiocarbon dates should be assumed to be
until proven otherwise in this region.
Evidence for the late survival of Neanderthals in southern Iberia is
limited to one
possible site, Cueva Antón, and
alternative models of human occupation of the region should be
- Achieving two new dates (out of eleven trials) is no major hit, even if useful.
- The results have been oversimplified when presented to the media (and/or by the journalists themselves).
- The new dates do not disprove that Neanderthals may have been there in later periods.
- Any conclusions would need to wait for a more extended revision of dates.
- Collagen preservation is much worse in Southern than Northern Iberia, what may actually imply some need for revision of dates towards more ancient ones (not just the Middle Paleolithic ones but also those from the initial Upper Paleolithic). This part is rather supportive but with due caution.
- Dates should not be considered alone but in their stratigraphic and archaeological context.
- The two sites have a very complex stratigraphy, what affects the interpretation of the new dates.
- There may be pre-conceptions behind this exaggerated claim, such as attachment to the Finlayson model of Neanderthal collapse in Europe before the arrival of modern humans, which is surely wrong.
Update (Feb 12): Basque prehistorian Joseba Ríos Garaizar inaugurates his new blog with an article[es] on this issue. He argues that the two new dates do not seem enough to revolutionize the whole understanding of Neanderthal periodization in SW Europe, especially with the recent re-dating of Saint-Césaire (which confirmed Neanderthal authorship of Chatelperronian and gives a date as late as c. 36 Ka BP, uncalibrated) and the various and also recent datings for Mousterian in the North of the Iberian Peninsula (Arrillor, Fuentes de San Cristobal, Esquilleu, Sopeña) all with dates more recent than 40 Ka BP (uncalibrated). In addition to these Axlor (Basque Country) has a Mousterian layer above another dated to c. 42 Ka BP (uncal.) and Lezetxiki is probably in the same situation. On top of those Mousterian layers many sites have their own Chatelperronian layer, of clear Neanderthal manufacture.
And then there are the already mentioned cases of the anomalous late Mousterian from Cantabria recently dated to 22 Ka BP and several Southern Iberian caves, including Gorham (Gibraltar), which appear also to be more recent than the dates managed by Wood et al.