Tephrostratigraphy of Grotta del Cavallo, Southern Italy: Insights on the chronology of Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in the Mediterranean


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Quaternary Science Reviews

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The Grotta del Cavallo contains one of the most important stratification of Mousterian, Uluzzian and Final Epigravettian tecnocomplexes; its chronology is of paramount importance for understanding the timing of the transition between Middle and Upper Palaeolithic in the Mediterranean region as well as the demise of the Neanderthal and the dispersal of the first anatomically modern humans through Europe. Within the stratigraphy of the cave three different volcanic ash layers occur (layer G, Fa and C-II). They are located in the middle section of the Mousterian (layer G), in between the Mousterian and Uluzzian layers (layer Fa) and on top of the Uluzzian horizons (layer C-II). The three tephra layers were chemically fingerprinted and correlated to well-known and precisely dated widespread Late Pleistocene tephra markers. Specifically, layer G, Fa and C-II were correlated to the X-6 (108.7 ± 0.9 ka), Y-6 (45.5 ± 1.0 ka) and Campanian Ignimbrite (39.85 ± 0.14 ka), respectively. These findings provide robust chronological points allowing to conclude that: (i) the Mousterian occupation of the cave took place after the fall of the sea level following the MIS 5e high-stand; (ii) the Mousterian-Uluzzian boundary can be dated to 45.5 ± 1.0 ka and climatostratigraphically firmly placed at the transition between the Greenland Interstadial 12 (GI12)-Greenland Stadial 12 (GS12); (iii) the Uluzzian lasted for at least five millennial spanning the GS12-GI9 period and ended at beginning of the Heinrich Event 4.

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