Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Asking a "lady" her age

The 'Red Lady of Paviland' is a Gravettian burial originally found in 1823 Goat's Hole Cave at Paviland (UK), and which was recently returned to the National Museum of Wales from Oxford University where it had been kept since its discovery. The body is actually that of a young male and was found covered in red ochre as well as "with a number of artefacts including ivory wands, bracelets and periwinkle shells."

It was originally thought to date to about 18 kya, before more recent assays established it was 25-26 kya. Well, it turns out that Tom Higham and his team have determined it is, in fact, some 4000 years older, or "just over 29 kya".

Beyond the general 'older is better' paleoanthropological cachet of this new report, there are some interesting implications drawn from this new age:

"It would mean The Red Lady lived in an age when the climate was much warmer than it would have been 4,000 years later.

Dr Higham added: "The data that we have got now is making a lot more sense."

He said it was important for "our understanding of the presence and behaviour of humans in this part of the world at this time".

He also said it "might" suggest that the custom of burying people with artefacts originated in western Europe rather than eastern Europe as had previously been thought.

"This raises new questions about the way in which these people spread and lived on the continent," he added."

I don't know what else they're basing the claim for a Western European origin of burials, but a single burial is not much to go on for such an interpretation. I'm sure there'll be more about this in the write-up of the analysis, which should be published in the Journal of Human Evolution early in 2008 (the corrected proof wasn't available when I checked today).

An artist's rendition of the burial ceremony in the Gravettian
( http://museums.ncl.ac.uk/flint/archrit.html).

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