A northern odyssey

14 May 2011

In the far north of Eurasia, at Byzovaya in the Ural Mountains, some kind of a Neanderthal mystery has emerged- and an explanation is hampered by C14 methodology. Stone implements said to date from between 34,000 and 31,000 years ago resemble scraping and cutting tools associated with Neanderthals - but the dating implies they belong to modern humans. In fact, the period between 40,000 and 30,000 years is problematic as far as C14 reliability is concerned - and it is the period when Neanderthals disappeared and modern humans emerged in their place. The question is why? It is being suggested that modern humans in the Arctic may have preserved an older Stone Age culture tradition, or toolkit - that is what seems to be argued in Science, May 13th issue (see www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/74222/title/Stone_Age_cold_case_baff... or see abstract at www.sciencemag.org/content/332/6031/841.html). However, age estimates at the site rest on measurements of C14 decay in animal bones from different soil layers and a  'calculation' of the time elapsed since the stone tools were buried.

Postscript ... we don't know if indeed the Ural Mountains were glaciated at this time - or particularly cold. The assumption is made that it was a cold environment as it is cold today (inside the Arctic Circle) and the period is defined as within the last Ice Age. However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that even at the height of the Late Glacial Maximum, between 30,000 and 16,000BC, the ice sheet did not reach as far as the Urals.