June 23, 2024

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‘Key’ archaeological development may help rewrite early human history

‘Key’ archaeological development may help rewrite early human history

Researchers have described an innovative technique used to study Neanderthal hearths, places where fires are lit, as a “major” development in archaeology, one that could help shed light on the behavior of prehistoric humans.

For a study published in the journal natureA multidisciplinary team of researchers has found that a series of six Neanderthal hearths at Al Salt, a Paleolithic site in Spain, formed over at least 200 to 240 years, and each was likely created decades apart.

The findings are important because determining the time scale of human activity in the Paleolithic, also known as the Paleolithic, has long been one of the most challenging problems in prehistoric archaeology. (This period in human prehistory extends from the first use of stone tools more than 3 million years ago to about 12,000 years ago.)

The timeline for such activity is difficult to determine largely due to limitations of dating techniques. For example, radiocarbon techniques cannot date specimens older than 50,000 to 60,000 years. Meanwhile, other techniques can produce errors for several thousand years.

Researcher Santiago Sosa Ríos examines a hearth at Al Salt, an archaeological site in Spain. Researchers have used an innovative technique to shed light on the chronology of six Neanderthal hearths at the site.

Sven Kleinhabel/University of Valencia

“Although it has been suggested that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were highly mobile, key aspects of their lifestyle, such as the time between camps and the size of traveling groups, remain unclear,” the study authors wrote. “The complexity of the composition of Paleolithic sites makes it difficult to determine periods of human occupation and determine the time between them.”

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In the latest study, the research team – led by Angela Herrigon Lagunilla from Spain’s University of Burgos – attempted to address this problem by examining hearths in Salt, dating back about 52,000 years ago, using an innovative technique.

This technique involved a combination of “archaeological stratigraphic” analyzes – which helped the team determine the order in which the hearths were created, based on their relative position in the Earth’s strata – and an approach known as archaeomagnetic dating.

This technique studies and interprets the signatures of the Earth’s past magnetic field as recorded in cremated archaeological remains. This approach works, because the burned material contains a record of the direction and/or strength of the magnetic field at the time of the last fire.

Combining the two approaches revealed that Neanderthal hearths at Salt were created decades apart, or even as much as a century, a discovery that sheds light on the behavior of these early humans, who became extinct about 40,000 years ago. The results provide an indication of stove timing with unprecedented accuracy.

“When we excavate areas of archaeological settlement, we assume that they are the result of many events of human activity, but until now we did not know exactly how much time passed between these activities. We did not know whether it was decades, centuries, or whether it was decades or centuries or whether it was decades or centuries,” said Santiago Sosa Ríos, an antiquity researcher. Prehistory, Archeology and Ancient History at the Spanish University of Valencia and author of the study, said in a press release: “Thousands of years ago.”

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He continued: “From there, within this temporary framework, we can open new lines of investigation to study, for example, patterns of mobility, technological change, or differences in the use of space.” “The time has come, and the challenge is to gather and distill all that the methods have to offer us to uncover.”

Hearths can provide useful information about Neanderthal life because they are good indicators of occupation at a particular site.

The new findings suggest that although Neanderthals were highly mobile, in some cases they may have returned to their previous settlements after long periods but still within the range of an individual life.

In Paleolithic archaeology, a discipline in which human behavior is typically studied over long timescales typical of geological processes, the ability to observe changes on timescales closer to the human lifetime is an important development.

As a result, the techniques used in the study could help shed light on Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. It can even be applied to other archaeological contexts to determine the timing of human activity.

“This is certainly a big step forward in archaeology, which will help us better understand past human behavior,” the study authors said in the press release.

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