PalaeoChron is a 5-year research project led by Professor Tom Higham at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, part of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, School of Archaeology, at the University of Oxford.
PalaeoChron is investigating one of the most intriguing periods of late human evolution, the transition from the Middle to Early Upper Palaeolithic across Eurasia, through a combination of novel methodologies in dating science, the application of state-of-the-art radiocarbon and luminescence dating techniques, and the analysis of newly excavated material from key Palaeolithic sites.
The period from about 70,000 - 45,000 years ago sees the final dispersal of anatomically modern humans out of Africa, colonising the Old World and Australia, and the disappearance of Neanderthals from the areas they had occupied for the last 200,000 years.
Our knowledge of this period of prehistory has improved dramatically in recent times. We now know through ancient DNA research that modern humans and Neanderthals probably interbred prior to the wider dispersal of modern people.
The exact timing of the dispersal and extinction and the duration of the suggested overlap or other archaic hominis living in Eurasia remain uncertain. There is also little reliable information on the geographical extent of these changes on a transcontinental (Europe-Asia) scale because Western Europe has played a disproportionately large role in investigations of the period.
These shortfalls limit our ability to determine the most likely origin and routes of modern human dispersals or the areas where archaic populations may have survived for longer, hampering hypotheses and interpretative models for population expansions and contractions, possible interaction and eventual extinction.
Reconstruction of an early modern human, Natural History Museum London.
The PalaeoChron project addresses the fundamental requirement of chronology to the field. Chronology is essential to any proper archaeological enquiry, but particularly for the Palaeolithic period, the latter lacking the firm anchor provided by historical information and reliable changes in material culture. With reliable absolute chronology, lithic assemblages from archaeological sites can be compared on a uniform scale, human remains may be directly dated and ages for archaeological sites and their sequences, often great distances apart, can be compared with far greater confidence.
We aim to reliably date some of the key sequences in Eurasia, using advanced radiocarbon dating and luminescence dating, the results of which will be interpreted within a statistical Bayesian framework. Use the links to the right to check the basics of each method.
We have three broad overarching research areas which we want to explore; (i) sites and industries containing evidence for the Early Upper Palaeolithic (EUP); (ii) sites providing evidence for the latest Mousterian or Middle Palaeolithic, and (iii), the dating of sites of the so-called ‘transitional’ industries of eastern and western Europe.
The aim is to establish reliable chronologies over a wide geographic range from key Eurasian sites which cover the final Middle Palaeolithic to the earliest Upper Palaeolithic. The regions under study stretch from Eastern Europe to the Middle East and across North and Central Asia, including Russia, Siberia and Mongolia. We plan to date sites in the Siberian Altai, Urals, Transbaikal, Dagestan (Caucasus), Georgia, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Lebanon and Iran, as well as in Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Hungary, Poland).