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Publication Date

July 2015


Based on the morphology of two deciduous molars and radiocarbon ages from layers D and E of the Grotta del Cavallo (Lecce, Italy), assigned to the Uluzzian, it has been proposed that modern humans were the makers of this Early Upper Paleolithic culture and that this finding considerably weakens the case for an independent emergence of symbolism among western European Neandertals. Reappraisal of the new dating evidence, of the finds curated in the Taranto Antiquities depot, and of coeval publications detailing the site’s 1963–66 excavations shows that (a) Protoaurignacian, Aurignacian and Early Epigravettian lithics exist in the assemblages from layers D and E, (b) even though it contains both inherited and intrusive items, the formation of layer D began during Protoaurignacian times, and (c) the composition of the extant Cavallo assemblages is influenced in a non-negligible manner by the post-hoc assignment of items to stratigraphic units distinct from that of original discovery. In addition, a major disturbance feature affected the 1960s excavation trench down to Mousterian layer F, this feature went unrecognized until 1964, the human remains assigned to the Uluzzian were discovered that year and/or the previous year, and there are contradictions between field reports and the primary anthropological description of the remains as to their morphology and level of provenience. Given these major contextual uncertainties, the Cavallo teeth cannot be used to establish the authorship of the Uluzzian. Since this technocomplex’s start date is ca. 45,000 calendar years ago, a number of Neandertal fossils are dated to this period, and the oldest diagnostic European modern human fossil is the <41,400 year-old Oase 1 mandible, Neandertal authorship of the Uluzzian remains the parsimonious reading of the evidence.


Italy, Modern Humans, Grotta Del Cavallo, Morphology

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