New bracketing luminescence ages constrain the Sima de los Huesos hominin fossils (Atapuerca, Spain) to MIS 12


Link to Full Text

Download Full Text

Publication Date

June 2019


Recent chronological studies of the Sima de los Huesos (SH) hominin fossil site, Atapuerca, Spain, have established a close minimum age of at least 430 ka for sedimentary material immediately overlying the human remains. However, a firm maximum age limit still needs to be established for the SH fossils in order to better constrain the timing for the onset of Neandertal speciation. In the present study, we address this important chronological gap at SH by providing direct ages for the sediment deposits that host, and immediately underlie, the hominin fossils. Depositional ages were obtained using single-grain thermally-transferred optically stimulated luminescence (TT-OSL), a technique that has yielded reliable ‘extended-range’ luminescence chronologies at several independently dated Atapuerca sites. Four single-grain TT-OSL depositional ages of 453 ± 56 ka, 437 ± 38 ka, 457 ± 41 ka and 460 ± 39 ka were obtained for the red clay lithostratigraphic units (LU-5 and LU-6) found underlying and encasing the SH hominin bones. A Bayesian age-depth model was constructed using previously published chronologies, as well as the new single-grain TT-OSL ages for LU-5 and LU-6, in order to derive combined age estimates for individual lithostratigraphic units preserved at SH. The combined modeled ranges reveal that the hominin-bearing layer (LU-6) was deposited between 455 ± 17 ka and 440 ± 15 ka (mean lower and upper boundary 68.2% probability range ± 1σ uncertainty, respectively), with a mean age of 448 ± 15 ka. These new bracketing ages suggest that the hominin fossils at SH were most likely deposited within Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 12, enabling more precise temporal constraint on the early evolution of the Neandertal lineage. The SH fossils represent the oldest reliably dated hominin remains displaying Neandertal features across Eurasia. These Neandertal features are first observed in the facial skeleton, including the mandible and teeth, as well as the temporomandibular joint, and appear consistently across the SH collect


Sima De Los Huesos, Geochronology, Middle Pleistocene, Neandertal Lineage, Atapuerca, Western Europe




Journal of Human Evolution, Vol. 131 (2019-06-01).