Luminescence chronology of cave sediments at the Atapuerca paleoanthropological site, Spain


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August 2008


Ascertaining the timing of the peopling of Europe, after the first out-of-Africa demographic expansion at the end of the Pliocene, is of great interest to paleoanthropologists. One of the earliest direct evidences for fossil hominins in western Europe comes from an infilled karstic cave site called Gran Dolina at Atapuerca, in a stratum ∼1.5 m below the Brunhes–Matuyama (B–M) geomagnetic boundary (780 ka) within lithostratigraphic unit TD6. However, most of the meters of fossil- and tool-bearing strata at Gran Dolina have been difficult to date. Therefore, we applied both thermoluminescence (TL) and infrared-stimulated-luminescence (IRSL) multi-aliquot dating methods to fine-silt fractions from sediment samples within Gran Dolina and the nearby Galería cave site. We also applied these methods to samples from the present-day surface soils on the surrounding limestone hill slopes to test the luminescence-clock-zeroing-by-daylight assumption. Within the uppermost 4 m of the cave deposits at Gran Dolina, TL and paired TL and IRSL ages range stratigraphically from 198 ± 19 ka to 244 ± 26 ka. Throughout Gran Dolina, all luminescence results are stratigraphically self-consistent and, excepting results from two stratigraphic units, are consistent with prior ESR-U-series ages from progressively deeper strata. Thermoluminescence ages culminate at 960 ± 120 ka approximately 1 m below the 780 ka B–M boundary. At Galería, with one exception, TL and IRSL ages range stratigraphically downward from 185 ± 26 ka to 503 ± 95 ka at the base of the lowermost surface-inwash facies. These results indicate that TL and (sometimes) IRSL are useful dating tools for karstic inwash sediments older than ca. 100 ka, and that a more accurate chronostratigraphic correlation is now possible among the main Atapuerca sites (Gran Dolina, Galería, Sima de los Huesos). Furthermore, the oldest TL age of ca. 960 ka from Gran Dolina, consistent with biostratigraphic and paleomagnetic evidence, implies a probable numeric age of 900–950 ka for the oldest h


Atapuerca, Dating, Hominin, Luminescence, Karstic Caves, Spain

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Journal of Human Evolution, Vol. 55, no. 2 (2008-08-01).