Carbon-14 (C-14) dating was presented by Willard Libby in 1949, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. By the 1980s, with significant developments in the instrumentation used in radiocarbon dating (e.g. introduction of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry) and increased levels of precision in the measurements, important research was being conducted into ways of removing carbonaceous contaminants from dated samples. In the subsequent decades, this field of pretreatment chemistry has been greatly advanced, with special attention given to old samples (>25 ka).
New material-specific techniques were designed and developed, such as the ultrafiltration of bone collagen, the cleaning of charcoal with ABOx-SC, and the dating of compound-specific biomarkers that promise contaminant-free dates. Finally improved statistical tools, such as Bayesian analysis, used in the modelling of the results and several calibration curves for correcting radiocarbon determinations older than 26 k.a cal BP allow more reliable results for Pleistocene-aged material. New materials, not datable before, for example deliberately perforated marine shells, which are markers of early symbolic behavior can also be dated and the results of such measurements have entered just the field.Fig 2: Scraper and Burin from an Aurignacian I Level (Castelmerle)
If we use high good provenienced material, adequate treatment and measurements, that are checked against contamination and adequate calibrations, a dataset emerges, that give us one astonishing message: The Beginning of the Upper Paleolithic in the Near East, Germany and France is around the Heinrich event 4 (ca 40000 yrs BC). This dates include C-14 dates from Pataud (France; Aurignacian), Les Cottes (France; Protoaurignacian and Aurignacian), Geisenklösterle (Germany; Aurignacian), Willendorf II/3 Austria: older AMS data; Aurignacian), Bacho Kiro (Bulgaria; Bohunician), Stránská skála and Bohunice (Moravia; older Bohunician), Ksar Akil Ksar Akil (Lebanon; Early Ahmarian;) Üçağızlı (Turkey; Ahmarian), Kebara Unit IV (Israel; early Ahmarian).Fig 3: More early Aurignacian material from the Vézère.
Of course the local picture is more differentiated: In S-Aurope a Protoaurignacian or a Uluzzian always lies below an Aurignacian, if both entities are present. Wherever the (CI) Y-5 tephra marker is present (South East Europe), the classic Aurignacian consistently overlies the Campanian Ignimbrite. In these parts of Europe the classic Aurignacian therefore seems to be relative young. The Mediterranean Protoaurignacian (at Castelcivita) and Uluzzian (at Castelcivita and Cavallo) and the “Transitional” Paleolithic industries of the Kostenki area (loci 14 and 17) are found below the tephra and must therefore be older than 39 k.a. cal BP. These data are affirmed by the fact that pretreated-AMS dated-C-14 samples at of the Protoaurignacian in Italy situate this techno complex at ca. 41-40 k.a. cal BP and the Uluzzian at 43 to 41 ka cal BP. Last year Douka et al. published that McBurney’s Layer XXV Haua Fteah cave (Cyrenaica, northeast Libya), associated with Upper Palaeolithic Dabban blade industries, has a clear stratigraphic relationship with the (CI) Y-5 tephra. Regarding this more complete “long stratigraphy” for the EUP on both sides of the Mediterranean, it remains unclear where the EUP really started. Maybe not in the Levant, as it has been suggested since Garrod’s time. However the redating of key-sites like Boker Tachtit and the Willendorf Aurignacian remains an important cross check for the new model and is urgently awaited….