Dating of beads sets new timeline for early humans

Related Articles

Related Articles

An international team of researchers and archaeologists, led by Oxford University has new dating evidence indicating when the earliest fully modern humans arrived in the Near East, the region known as the Middle East today.

They have obtained the radiocarbon dates of marine shell beads found at Ksar Akil, a key archaeological site in Lebanon, which allowed them to calculate that the oldest human fossil from the same sequence of archaeological layers is 42,400–41,700 years old. This is significant because the age of the earliest fossils, directly and indirectly dated, of modern humans found in Europe is roughly similar.

This latest discovery throws up intriguing new possibilities about the routes taken by the earliest modern humans out of Africa, says the study published online by the journal PLOS ONE.

 

The research team radiocarbon dated 20 marine shells from the top 15 metres of archaeological layers at Ksar Akil, north of Beirut. The shells were perforated, which indicates they were used as beads for body or clothes decoration by modern humans. Neanderthals, who were living in the same region before them, were not making such beads. The study confirms that the shell beads are only linked to the parts of the sequence assigned to modern humans and shows that through direct radiocarbon dating they are between 41,000–35,000 years old.

The Middle East has always been regarded as a key region in prehistory for scholars speculating on the routes taken by early humans out of Africa because it lies at the crossroads of three continents – Africa, Asia and Europe. It was widely believed that at some point after 45,000 years ago early modern humans arrived in Europe, taking routes out of Africa through the Near East and, from there, along the Mediterranean rim or along the River Danube. However, this dating evidence suggests populations of early modern humans arrived in Europe and the Near East at roughly the same time, sparking a new debate about where the first populations of early humans travelled from in their expansion towards Europe and which alternative routes they may have taken.

The excavations at Ksar Akil in 1938. Workers digging at 17 metres below the surface. Chief archaeologist examines their finds from above (shown here in the middle right of the picture wearing a hat). Credit: Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.
The excavations at Ksar Akil in 1938. Workers digging at 17 metres below the surface. Chief archaeologist examines their finds from above (shown here in the middle right of the picture wearing a hat). Credit: Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

In Ksar Akil, the Lebanese rockshelter, several human remains were found in the original excavations made 75 years ago. Unfortunately, since then the most complete skeleton of a young girl, thought to be about 7–9 years of age and buried at the back of the rock shelter, has been lost. Lost also are the fragments of a second individual, found next to the buried girl. However, the team was able to calculate the age of the lost fossil at 40,800–39,200 years ago, taking into account its location in the sequence of archaeological layers in relation to the marine shell beads.

Another fossil of a recently rediscovered fragment of the upper jaw of a woman, now located in a museum in Beirut, had insufficient collagen to be dated by radiocarbon methods. A method using statistical modelling was used to date by association the jaw fragment at 42,400–41,700 years old.

Ksar Akil is one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in Eurasia. It consists of a 23-metre-deep sequence of archaeological layers that lay undisturbed for thousands of years until a team of American Jesuit priests excavated the rockshelter in 1937–38, and again after the end of the Second World War, in 1947–48. The cave layers were found to contain the human fossils and hundreds of shell beads, as well as thousands of stone tools and broken bones of hunted and consumed animals.

Study lead author Dr Katerina Douka, from the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, said: ‘This is a region where scholars have been expecting to find early evidence of anatomically and behaviourally modern humans, like us, leaving Africa and directly replacing Eurasian Neanderthal populations that lived there for more than 150,000 years. The human fossils at Ksar Akil appear to be of a similar age to fossils in other European contexts. It is possible that instead of the Near East being the single point of origin for modern humans heading for Europe, they may also have used other routes too. A maritime route across the Mediterranean has been proposed, although evidence is scarce. A wealth of archaeological data now pinpoints the plains of Central Asia as a particularly important but relatively unknown region which requires further investigation.’

The earliest European modern fossil, from Romania, dates to between 42,000–38,000 years before the present time, and specialists have estimated the age of Kent’s Cavern maxilla from southern England, between 44,000–41,000 years, and that of two milk teeth in southern Italy, at 45,000–43,000 years old. The new dating evidence from Ksar Akil is largely comparable to these ages, if not slightly younger.

The work was led by Dr Katerina Douka of Oxford University, along with Professor Robert Hedges and Professor Tom Higham (Oxford), American Palaeolithic archaeologist Dr Christopher Bergman from URS Corporation, Cincinnati, and Frank P Wesselingh from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, the Netherlands.

Header Image : Beads from the site of Ksar Akil (Lebanon) found closely associated with the skeleton of an early modern girl dating to between 39-41 thousand years ago. The beads shown here are made of the shell of a small marine snail (Nassarius gibbosulus/circumcinctus). The large Glycymeris valve in the centre, was not pierced, but its surface preserved bright red pigmentation. Credit: Katerina Douka and Natural History Museum London.

Contributing Source : University of Oxford

HeritageDaily : Archaeology News : Archaeology Magazine

Archtools

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Academics Develop New Method to Determine the Origin of Stardust in Meteorites

Meteorites are critical to understanding the beginning of our solar system and how it has evolved over time.

Primate Voice Boxes are Evolving at a Rapid Pace

Scientists have discovered that the larynx, or voice box, of primates is significantly larger relative to body size, has greater variation, and is under faster rates of evolution than in other mammals.

New Discoveries at Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair

Researchers at the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s military headquarters located in the Masurian woods, Poland have made several new discoveries.

Medieval Sword Found at Bottom of Oder River

An almost complete medieval sword has been recovered from the Oder River in Poland.

Inside the Ice Giants of Space

A new theoretical method paves the way to modelling the interior of the ice giants Uranus and Neptune, thanks to computer simulations on the water contained within them.

Innovative Method Opens up New Perspectives for Reconstructing Climatic Conditions of Past Eras

Corals precipitate their calcareous skeletons (calcium carbonate) from seawater. Over thousands of years, vast coral reefs form due to the deposition of this calcium carbonate.

New Study Supports Predictions That the Arctic Could be Free of Sea Ice by 2035

A new study, published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, supports predictions that the Arctic could be free of sea ice by 2035.

Rare ‘Boomerang’ Earthquake Observed Along Atlantic Ocean Fault Line

Scientists have tracked a 'boomerang' earthquake in the ocean for the first time, providing clues about how they could cause devastation on land.

Popular stories

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.

The Real Dracula?

“Dracula”, published in 1897 by the Irish Author Bram Stoker, introduced audiences to the infamous Count and his dark world of sired vampiric minions.