Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Combe Capelle burial is Holocene in age

So says this Past Horizons report. This is fairly important in that it joins a bunch of other modern Homo sapiens remain long thought to have been associated with the Aurignacian to recently have been directly dated and shown to be much more recent (Churchill and Smith 2000). One recent and well publicized case was that of the Vogelherd remains, which were redated to between 3.9-5kya as opposed to the 30+kya it was originally thought to date to (Conard et al. 2004).

In the case of Combe Capelle, the redating of the skeleton to ca. 9575BP (the report doesn't give the exact age range) is especially significant for two reasons. For one thing, it's one more blow to the idea that modern humans were in Europe from the very beginning of the Upper Paleolithic. For another thing, and perhaps most importantly, it conclusively dissociates this set of modern human bones from the Chatelperronian artifacts with which it was found. As I've argued before, who made the Chatelperronian is now hotly debated, and this new piece of the puzzle just makes the question even more intriguing.

Edit Also, check out this photo (included in the Past Horizons report) of Otto Hauser, who discovered the burial, posing with the remains themselves... you just don't see photos like that in paleoanthropology anymore!


Churchill SE, & Smith FH (2000). Makers of the early Aurignacian of Europe. American journal of physical anthropology, Suppl 31, 61-115 PMID: 11123838

Conard, N., Grootes, P., & Smith, F. (2004). Unexpectedly recent dates for human remains from Vogelherd Nature, 430 (6996), 198-201 DOI: 10.1038/nature02690


Maju said...

This is very interesting but I'd sincerely like to see a reference. The story looks genuine but there are occasional hoaxes around, mostly just something people does for fun in order to tests others gullibility.

So, while I do tend to think that the revision of dates is genuine, I'd feel safer with an academic reference.

Millán Mozota said...

That will just confirm a strong trend in the re-study of european paleoantropological record: that most of the hypothetical "first AMHs" from Euro-old diggs (XIX century, first decades of 20th...) are just from every cronological background in the book(magdalelian, mesolithic, neolithic, bronce age...) except Early Upper Paleolithic.

Julien Riel-Salvatore said...

Maju -
obviously, reference to a paper would be preferable. That said, I'd seen earlier mentions of this (here for instance), and the fact that the Dept. of Human Evolution of the MPI has, in fact, been conducting new excavations at Combe Capelle for the past couple of years suggests there's good reason to accept this report as valid overall while we wait for an actual publication.

Julien Riel-Salvatore said...

Millán -
thanks for your comment. Absolutely, I agree. Furthermore, all this redating that evidences previously unrecognized recent intrusions in Paleolithic context is al the more reason to conduct detailed and careful reexcavations of sites on which much of our fundamental knowledge of the Paleolithic (and esp. the Early Upper Paleolithic) is based. This is part of the rationale behind my ongoing work at the Arene Candide in Italy.

Lars said...

Wowzers - so, if legit, this chalks specifically Aurignacian "modern human" remains to what, close to none? unless you count the Oase specimens, and my skepticism on those is on the high side right now. These are good times to be an archaeologist, things are getting more messy, and more interesting, than the old skhul models can handle!

zacharoo said...

Fascinating stuff. Caves are indeed a headache (I love the South African Pliocene...), and this dissociation of European industries is quickly getting my attention.

And if I ever discover anything and get to pose with it, the only thing I'll be sure to do is make sure I have a Hauserian upturned mustache.

andrew said...

Giving the redatings what are the oldest modern human remains in Europe now?

Maju said...


Pestera cu Oase (West Romania) is (and was) the oldest AMH known in Europe. It's dated to c. 35 Ka BP raw, what may be c. 40 Ka ago (real years).

- Kostenki 1 (Don Basin, Southern Russia) can be 38 Ka ago (32.6 Ka BP raw).
- Muierii 2 and Cioclovina 1 (West Romania) c. 34 Ka ago (30-29 Ka BP raw).

Then, Kents Cavern 4 (Devon, Britain) could be the oldest known in Western Europe, but dating seems uncertain. Otherwise Cro-Magnon 1 and other similar specimens from the early Gravettian period (since c. 28 Ka ago) could be the first attested modern humans in West Europe.

There are even older AMH remains in Palestine, clearly associated to aurignacoid industries (Ahmarian). This is in fact the strongest evidence (along with Kostenki 1) supporting H. sapiens penetration in West Eurasia in relation with aurignacoid industries, including but not only true Aurignacian.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

@ Maju

Thanks. So, there are only four pre-Gravettian AMH examples in Europe, three in the far SE corner of Europe, and the only one outside that area of questionable dating itself. This is younger than I had realized by 10,000 to 15,000 years.

I hadn't realized how short the period from arrival in AMHs in the bulk of Europe and LGM were. It looks like this is only about 8,000 years (about the same as the length of time from the Neolithic revolution to the present), and presumably the closer one gets to LGM, even without actually being there, the less desirable a lot of the territory of Europe gets. Also, presumably, initial AMH population densities from 28,000 BP to 20,000 BP are pretty low.

This also seems to really narrow the European overlap of Neanderthal and AMH. I'd thought of this as a pan-European phenomena, but the extinction dates for Neanderthal and the arrival dates for AMH don't seem to have much overlap outside SE Europe and SW Asia. We may be talking a few centuries or a couple thousand years of overlap outside SW Asia, rather than many millenia of overlap.

Maju said...

Just to say that when there are no remains, there are still industries. We may not know who made them for sure but for sure also that somebody made them. We may therefore lack of any direct evidence on Aurignacian, Bohunician or proto-Aurignacian authorship but they were made by either species (or, less likely, both) in any case.

So rather than looking at the too scarce skeletal fossils, prehistorians look specially at industry (cultural) records.

On "overlap", it depends: do you consider Vindija and Oase to "overlap" because they are both in the Balcans or not because they are hundreds of kilometers away? In general, I am under the strong impression that Neanderthals and Sapiens did not share the same sites and districts, at least not in a way that can be perceived in the archaeological record.

But I think that is also the case in SW Asia. Rather than sharing the environment, the two species must have lived in clearly different spaces (or times). The contact was probably limited to a thin boundary strip, which moved essentially in westward direction along the millennia.