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A new radiocarbon revolution and the dispersal of modern humans in Eurasia

Abstract

Radiocarbon dating has been fundamental to the study of human cultural and biological development over the past 50,000 yr. Two recent developments in the methodology of radiocarbon dating show that the speed of colonization of Europe by modern human populations was more rapid than previously believed, and that their period of coexistence with the preceding Neanderthal was shorter.

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Figure 1: Contamination effects in radiocarbon dating.
Figure 2: Radiocarbon calibration curves for the 25,000–50,000-yr time range.
Figure 3: Comparison of calibrated and uncalibrated radiocarbon dates for the dispersal of modern humans across Europe and the Near East.
Figure 4: Dispersal routes of modern human populations across Europe.
Figure 5: Drawing of heads of cave lions in the Chauvet cave (south-east France).

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Acknowledgements

I thank N. Shackleton, C. Bronk Ramsey, T. Higham, R. Hedges, H. Valladas, N. Mercier, M. Fontugne, N. Tisnérat-Laborde, M. Paterne, B. Weninger, W. Davies, O. Bar-Yosef, J. Richter and J. Kozlowski for discussions of the points raised in the paper. Figure 5 was reproduced with permission from the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, Regional Direction for Cultural Affairs–Rhône-Alpes, Regional Department of Archeology (image 20).

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Mellars, P. A new radiocarbon revolution and the dispersal of modern humans in Eurasia. Nature 439, 931–935 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04521

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