Some of the most important Middle to Upper Palaeolithic sites are located on the Cote d'Azur of southern France and the border with Italy, for example at the Balzi Rossi complex. Members of the PalaeoChron project visited Prof. Henry de Lumley of the IPH and doyen of the French Lower and Middle Palaeolithic in Nice. We are interested in working on the site of Lazaret and applying novel supercritical fluid methods to explore organic residues in the key occupation layers of this 130-160,000 year old levels. We also want to explore DNA preservation at the site, and other sites, to help contribute to the increasingly important suite of genetic data emerging from the period of the transition from a Neanderthal Europe to one dominated by modern humans.
Of course Lazaret is far beyond the radiocarbon limit, but in addition to this we also looked at more recent Upper Palaeolitihc material from collections in Nice that we are keen to AMS date. These remains include split-based bone points and other lozangic points typical of the Evolved Aurignacian (see below). These are precious artefacts and we are very committed to not damaging them with careless and needless sampling, as in cases where the collagen preservation is poor. For this reason we take tiny 5mg samples for %Nitrogen analysis first. A reasonable presence of N is a good indicator that there is likely to be protein in the bone, and therefore encourages us to take a sample of a size suitable for AMS dating.
It was a real privilege to meet Henry de Lumley and members of his excavation team at the site (see picture above). In typical French fashion we were treated to a lovely lunch at the laboratoire at Lazaret after a look around the site. A range of delicious fromages, fresh bread and a bottle of Beaujolais was just perfect.