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16 February 2014
Dating refined for Atapuerca site

Most scientific debate of the Atapuerca sites - located in Spain, where the earliest known Hominins in West Europe have been discovered - centres around the dating of strata where the fossils are found. A study published by the Journal of Archaeological Science has clarified that the sediment of Gran Dolina, where the first remains of Homo antecessor were discovered in 1994, is 900,000 years old.
     The findings at the Lower Palaeolithic cave site have led to major advancements in our knowledge of human evolution and occupation of Eurasia.
     Josep M Pares, from the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution, who is leading the study, says: "We are applying new methods and techniques, and we also have better field and laboratory knowledge. We have published a study that represents a small step towards a large project which will take us longer: reviewing all the dates in order to refine them. We want to include it all within a more solid geo-chronological framework."
     "On the one hand we employ paramagnetic resonance, and on the other what is known as optically stimulated luminescence. This provides numerical dates, absolute ages. We have reviewed these and combined them with the new figures from palaeo-magnetism in order to expand upon the chronology of this level TD6 of the Gran Dolina and the fossils it contains." They were previously given a minimum age of 780,000 years and now it is known that they are referring more accurately to around 900,000 years.
     The site has produced thousands of fossils and artifacts and has become a landmark in studies on early human settlement outside Africa. Researchers will next attempt to use individual fossils - especially teeth - to obtain direct dates for the remains found, as well as those already known by their sediments.

Edited from PhysOrg (7 February 2014)

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