Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS


PALAEOCHRON Informe resumido

Project ID: 324139
Financiado con arreglo a: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
País: United Kingdom

Mid-Term Report Summary - PALAEOCHRON (Precision dating of the Palaeolithic: chronological mapping of the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic of Eurasia)

PalaeoChron is a research project that is focusing on the question of the disappearance of Neanderthals from Eurasia and the associated spread of anatomically modern humans, whose ultimate origin is Africa. Significant questions arise regarding the pattern of movement of human populations, the extent to which there was contact between the populations, and when and why Neanderthals disappeared. Much remains unknown, but our knowledge of this period of prehistory has improved dramatically in recent times. We now know through ancient DNA research, for example, that AMH and Neanderthals probably interbred prior to the wider dispersal of modern people. The exact timing of the dispersal and extinction of these populations and the duration of the suggested overlap with Neanderthals remain uncertain, however. PalaeoChron is applying and developing state-of-the-art techniques to improve the chronological basis of this part of the so-called “Palaeolithic period”, covering 30-60,000 years ago. By developing better methods of radiocarbon and luminescence dating archaeological sites from this period, and by then applying these techniques to key sites, we are hoping to illuminate a better and more precise picture of what happened.
The project has so far investigated around 70 archaeological sites, from Spain to the Russian Altai. We have undertaken dozens of fieldtrips and sampling missions, to obtain material for analysis. We have produce more than 200 new radiocarbon measurements, as well as more than 50 dates of archaeological sediments using the luminescence method of dating. The results can be integrated in models using Bayesian statistics, which result in much more precise and accurate chronologies. Key events in the models can then be compared across wide spatial ranges. One of the key events of course is the date of the disappearance of Neanderthals. We associate Neanderthals with certain types of sites where we find stone tool industries and Neanderthal remains together. Sometimes, this evidence is lacking and so it becomes difficult to link archaeological remains to a specific hominin. But where we can we are now able to date those remains much more precisely than before, and compare the results with other sites to plot the similarities or differences.
In addition to this work, which is ongoing, we have also been collaborating with ancient DNA specialists, dating and also genetically analysing human bones, of both Neanderthals and modern humans. We have been applying a method called ZooMS (Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry), which is a collagen fingerprinting technique that allows us to identify animal species from fragmentary bones. We have been using this to search for human fossil traces in several sites in Eurasia. The results have been exciting, and resulted in the discovery of a tiny 2.5 cm long bone from the key site of Denisova Cave. The bone, which genetic analysis showed was that of a Neanderthal, is now undergoing nuclear DNA sequencing.

Reported by

United Kingdom
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