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Title: A matter of time : towards an absolute chronology for the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic biocultural shift along the Danube fluvial corridor
Author: Hopkins, Rachel Jennifer Anne
ISNI:       0000 0004 7966 0959
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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Recent research has shown the need for a reliable, high-resolution chronology to understand the complexity of the spatio-temporal distribution of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans (AMH) during the transitional period between the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic. One region that has yet to benefit from the developments in dating sciences and the application of Bayesian modelling approaches is eastern Europe. This dissertation focuses on producing a more robust chronological framework for this region, especially the key area of the Danube fluvial corridor, which has been suggested as one of the conduits for early modern humans on their dispersal route into western Europe (e.g. Conard and Bolus, 2003). The radiocarbon data and models place the chronology for AMH dispersal on more secure footing, thereby refining our understanding of the regional variability and complexity of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic biocultural shift. This work is the result of four years of doctoral research within the University of Oxford's PalaeoChron ERC project, headed by Prof Tom Higham. This thesis applied recent improvements in radiocarbon dating methodologies and analysis, such as ultrafiltration (Brock et al., 2010b), single amino acid dating (Devièse et al., 2018), and KDE modelling (Bronk Ramsey, 2017). Two strategies were pursued for sample selection. First, key sites with a deep stratigraphic record were targeted. Anthropogenically modified samples were used to initially establish site specific high resolution chronologies using Bayesian and KDE modelling. Second, type fossils, such as 'Aurignacian' osseous projectile points and human remains, were directly dated to establish spatio-temporal distributions for diagnostic finds. Furthermore, published dates from the Danube Valley and key European sites were evaluated, and - where deemed sufficiently reliable - used as comparisons and incorporated into larger regional models. The resulting chronology is based on 606 14C measurements (440 published, 166 from this thesis), and paints a picture of complex spatio-temporal biocultural distributions. It demonstrates the validity of the Danube corridor as a conduit for AMH expansion into central Europe, and places the development as early as 50-47k cal BP based on biocultural expressions. At the same time, the results support the Kulturpumpe hypothesis in seeing central Europe as crucial to the development of the Early Aurignacian technocomplex, and date its initial appearance to around 43-41k cal BP. However, rather than innovation, it appears that fusion, adaptation and specialisation drive the formation of the Early Aurignacian. This is best illustrated by split-based points, which first appear further to the east where diagnostic Aurignacian lithics are absent. Consequently, this thesis argues in favour of viewing osseous points as independent chrono-cultural markers, and stresses the importance of selecting anthropogenically modified material for dating human activity. It questions the dominant paradigm of ex oriente lux for explaining cultural innovations and dispersals. Instead, it proposes to further investigate the plains north of the Black Sea as a possible migration trajectory for early AMHs entering Europe. It is argued that in future, when exploring biocultural expression, it should be remembered that not all migrations move east to west, and not all developments are linear in time and space.
Supervisor: Higham, Thomas Sponsor: European Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available