CORDIS - EU research results

Bridging Europe: A Quaternary Timescale For The Expansion And Evolution Of Humans

Project description

Reliable dating for a deeper understanding of human evolution

Human evolution and migration across Europe during the last 2.6 million years occurred amidst major climatic changes marked by shifts in iced areas and sea levels. While geological and archaeological records have been extensively studied, secure chronology is missing as dating this time period is very difficult. As a result, our understanding of human evolution and migration is limited. By extending the extraordinary progress made in amino acid and thermoluminescence dating, the EU-funded EQUATE project will provide a chronology allowing a deeper understanding of human evolution. The new paired chronology will provide insights into the relationship between humans and environmental change over the last 2.6 million years across Europe, from Britain to the Black Sea.


Timing is everything in archaeology; EQuaTe will build on exciting advances in amino acid and thermoluminescence (TL) dating to provide a chronology that will deepen our understanding of early human evolution and migration throughout Europe.

During the Quaternary (the last 2.6 million years), Europe witnessed major climatic oscillations, with periodic expansion of ice sheets into lowland areas, changes of sea-level, re-organization of plant and animal communities, and the evolution and migration of human populations. Despite extensive studies of the rich European geological and archaeological records (providing a detailed history of these environmental changes), these have little meaning without a secure chronology. Dating is extremely difficult beyond the limit of radiocarbon dating (~60,000 years). Key to our approach is the discovery that commonly-occurring calcitic fossils (snail opercula) provide both closed-system repositories for amino acids and a stable TL signal over Quaternary timescales. It is therefore now possible to use both dating methods on the same biomineral to build a strong dating framework; taking advantage of momentum in this field, EQuATe will apply this approach on a European scale.

This novel paired chronology, spanning the entire Palaeolithic in Eurasia, will refine our understanding of European human cultural and population dynamics and their relationship to environmental change over the last 2.6 Ma, across a region stretching from Britain to the Black Sea. EQuaTe will provide the scientific means to answer critical questions, e.g.: when did early human populations expand into Europe, and under what climatic conditions? Are apparent differences in tool technologies a reflection of different species, technical evolution over time, or geographical variations in source materials and cultural tradition? The pan-European chronology developed by this research will be a breakthrough in our ability to understand our past.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 406 165,50
YO10 5DD York North Yorkshire
United Kingdom

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Yorkshire and the Humber North Yorkshire York
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 406 165,50

Beneficiaries (2)