Ancient Digs and Modern Myths: The Age and Context of the Kent's Cavern 4 Maxilla and the Earliest Homo sapiens Specimens in Europe


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January 2017


Recent anatomical analyses of a human maxilla found in 1927 in the Vestibule at Kent's Cavern, Devon, UK, have been interpreted as confirming its taxonomic status as Homo sapiens, while Bayesian modelling of dated fauna apparently ‘associated’ with it has been interpreted as suggesting a calendar age for the maxilla of around 44,200–41,500 years BP, rendering it the earliest fossil evidence for modern human presence in Northern Europe. In this paper, we examine fully the circumstances of the maxilla's discovery, data not previously considered. Based mostly on archival and limited published materials, as well as knowledge of the cave's stratigraphy, we provide a detailed examination of the context of the maxilla and associated finds. We urge caution over using a small selected sample of fauna from an old and poorly executed excavation in Kent's Cavern to provide a radiocarbon stratigraphy and age for a human fossil that cannot be dated directly, and we suggest that the recent dating should be rejected. We place our evaluation in the wider context of the dating of European early anatomically modern humans.


Ancient Digs, Modern Myths, Kent's Cavern, Homo Sapiens, Europe

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