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Nature. 1989 Apr 27;338(6218):756-8.

ESR dates for the hominid burial site of Es Skhul in Israel.

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Department of Paleontology, British Museum, London, UK.


The Middle East has been critical to our understanding of recent human evolution ever since the recovery of Neanderthal and early anatomically modern fossils from the caves of Tabun and Skhul (Mount Carmel) over 50 years ago. It was generally believed, on archaeological and morphological grounds, that middle eastern Neanderthals (such as those from Tabun, Amud and Kebara) probably dated from more than 50,000 years ago, whereas the earliest anatomically modern specimens (from Skhul and Qafzeh) probably dated from about 40,000 years. Recent thermoluminescence and electron spin resonance (ESR) determinations, however, have supported biostratigraphy in dating the Qafzeh deposits to an earlier part of the late Pleistocene, probably more than 90,000 years ago. These dates have been questioned on unspecified technical grounds, and it has also been argued that they create explanatory problems by separating the morphologically similar Qafzeh and Skhul samples by some 50,000 years, thus implying a long-term coexistence of early modern humans and Neanderthals in the area. Here we report the first radiometric dating analysis for Skhul, using ESR on bovine teeth from the hominid burial levels. Early uptake and linear uptake ages average 81 +/- 15 and 101 +/- 12 kyr respectively. These analyses suggest that the Skhul and Qafzeh samples are of a similar age and therefore it is possible that the presence of early modern humans in the area was episodic, rather than long-term during the early late Pleistocene.

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