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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Nov 23;107(47):20234-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1007963107. Epub 2010 Oct 18.

Chronology of the Grotte du Renne (France) and implications for the context of ornaments and human remains within the Châtelperronian.

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  • 1Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QY, United Kingdom.


There is extensive debate concerning the cognitive and behavioral adaptation of Neanderthals, especially in the period when the earliest anatomically modern humans dispersed into Western Europe, around 35,000-40,000 B.P. The site of the Grotte du Renne (at Arcy-sur-Cure) is of great importance because it provides the most persuasive evidence for behavioral complexity among Neanderthals. A range of ornaments and tools usually associated with modern human industries, such as the Aurignacian, were excavated from three of the Châtelperronian levels at the site, along with Neanderthal fossil remains (mainly teeth). This extremely rare occurrence has been taken to suggest that Neanderthals were the creators of these items. Whether Neanderthals independently achieved this level of behavioral complexity and whether this was culturally transmitted or mimicked via incoming modern humans has been contentious. At the heart of this discussion lies an assumption regarding the integrity of the excavated remains. One means of testing this is by radiocarbon dating; however, until recently, our ability to generate both accurate and precise results for this period has been compromised. A series of 31 accelerator mass spectrometry ultrafiltered dates on bones, antlers, artifacts, and teeth from six key archaeological levels shows an unexpected degree of variation. This suggests that some mixing of material may have occurred, which implies a more complex depositional history at the site and makes it difficult to be confident about the association of artifacts with human remains in the Châtelperronian levels.

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