October 02, 2011

Rapid onset of Aurignacian in Southwest France

Journal of Archaeological Science doi:10.1016/j.jas.2011.09.019

A Radiocarbon chronology for the complete Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transitional sequence of Les Cottés (France)

Sahra Talamo et al.

The Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition is the key period for our understanding of Neanderthal and modern human interactions in Europe. The site of Les Cottés in south-west France is one of the rare sites with a complete and well defined sequence covering this transition period. We undertook an extensive radiocarbon dating program on mammal bone which allows us to propose a chronological framework of five distinct phases dating from the Mousterian to the Early Aurignacian at this site. We found that the Mousterian and Châtelperronian industries are separated from the overlying Protoaurignacian by a gap of approximately 1000 calendar years. Based on a comparison with Upper Paleolithic sites in Europe we see an overlap in the ages of Châtelperronian industries and Aurignacian lithic assemblages, which are usually associated with Anatomical Modern Humans, which is consistent with an acculturation at distance model for these late Neanderthals. The Proto and Early Aurignacian appear contemporaneous indicating that this transition was rapid in this region. Anatomically Modern Humans are present at the site of Les Cottés at least at 39,500 cal BP roughly coincident with the onset of the cold phase Heinrich 4.



eurologist said...

It's good to see a convergence in new studies with dates close to 40,000 BP (calibrated) for modern humans in Europe.

I am still not convinced of the Neanderthal association with Châtelperronian. In Italy, the transition culture(s) seem to indicate small groups of invading AMHs (perhaps mostly men) that swiftly start using areas recently abandoned by Neanderthals, whose sites in turn then start to look disorganized. In Russia we also have a strange mixture of sites, some of which may simply show less sophisticated tool sets because they were just used seasonally for very specific hunting --- but nothing that indicates acculturation. Perhaps Châtelperronian is similar: the first bands of AMHs at the fringe, who didn't bother to use a more complicated tool set for their short operations.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Both the time frame (40,000 ya) and the gap size (1,000 years), are in close accord with previous estimates. I agree with eurologist that the data seem to be converging.

Pascvaks said...


"2) 41,000-39,000 y.a. (possibly corresponding in age to the Heinrich event H4?), a relatively cold phase (a Heinrich event) during the 'middling' period ago (Oxygen Isotope Stage 3).. Huijzer & Isarin (1997) have summarized the general climatic and ecological conditions for north-western and central Europe for this phase, based on a range of indicators including plant fossils, insect fossils, ancient dune features and permafrost features."

"Huijzer & Isarin suggest that to the south of a large ice sheet (approximately following the southern limits of present-day Norway and Sweden), there would have been arid conditions with sparse vegetation cover, with aeolian sand sheets active, and some loess (windblown dust) deposition in areas where at least some vegetation was present. Mean annual temperature was similar to the high Arctic of the present-day; around -9 to -4 deg.C, and the mean temperature of the warmest month across north-west Europe was around 10-11 deg.C; equivalent to the tundra zones today. The coldest month would have varied from around -27 to -20 deg.C from north (Denmark) to south (northern France)."

"This interval, correlated with a Heinrich event or ice surge in the north Atlantic, was one of the intense cold and dry stages of the last 100,000 years in western Europe, though it is uncertain whether this cooling extended much outside of Europe (unlike the glacial maxima which seem to have been fairly global in their extreme conditions)."

A thousand years seems like a long time unless there's a good reason. Agree that the reason has to do with the climate; or that climate offers a reasonable reason.

pconroy said...

So might the scenario have unfolded as follows:
1. AMH never went into Neanderthal areas, as the Neanderthals were expert ambush hunters, and one-on-one much stronger and more deadly than an AMH
2. Climate got severely cold, Neanderthals left Northern Europe en masse fairly quickly and moved South to Iberia, Italy and Balkans
3. Small bands of AMH moved into the newly vacated North - as they had the needle and could make warm clothes
4. When climate started to warm, the AMH population expanded greatly, and then started to move slowly but inexorably South into the remaining Neanderthal terrain.

eurologist said...


I pretty much agree with you. However, the devil is in the details, especially the timing of the transition period and its association with the temperature record and with (which?) humans.

I don't understand the authors' reasoning around Heinrich event 4 (H4) nor their climate data. IMO, their own dates fits with a claim that northern Mousterian (and therefore northernmost Neanderthal) found a slow death with the strong cooling associated with H5 (~43,700 - 46,000 ya). Around 41,300 - 41,750 and 43,000 - 43,700 ya there were brief warm phases that fit the authors' Châtelperronian and late Mousterian, respectively, but times would have been extremely challenging to Neanderthals due to the wild, short-term temperature fluctuations. AMHs don't seem to have minded the cold (but at first steadier) conditions after that -- in fact they likely profited from the absence of Neanderthals who never were able to recover.