The last glacial cycle included some of the coldest and most unstable moments of the last 2 million years of Earth history. Climate-driven environmental changes impacted on the landscape and also influenced human evolution, dispersal and culture; they may also have played a role in the extinction of the Neanderthals. Human/environment relations thus merit detailed research. Accurate chronologies for human activities and contemporaneous paleoenvironmental records are key requirements to sustain further progress in geoarchaeology and to improve our knowledge of the history of humankind. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating is currently one of the most dynamic fields in geochronology. The single-grain approach, in particular, opens up new opportunities for dating materials that have hitherto been ignored. Pioneering work has shown that archaeological sequences in cave-mouth deposits can be reliably dated using single sand-sized grains of quartz. The overseas host institution (U. Wollongong, Australia) is a world-renowned geochronology laboratory with recognised expertise in single-grain OSL dating. The applicant will join this group in an international and interdisciplinary project to examine the origin of modern human behaviour and the role of paleoenvironmental changes in landscape and human evolution in South Africa. A carefully designed research agenda will enable single-grain OSL dating to be applied to selected archaeological sites and related paleoenvironmental records in the eastern alpine realm as part of the follow-up phase. We will develop high-precision OSL chronologies for archaeological and loess sequences, and match these to the paleoclimatic record of U-Th dated alpine speleothems. The improved chronological control will greatly assist archaeological interpretations of when and how past environmental changes impacted on human societies.
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