Radiocarbon, tree rings, and solar variability provide the accurate time scale for human evolution and geoscience



Europe was the continent where Neanderthal and Anatomically Modern Human (AMH) interacted in a supposed time window of up to five millennia around 40,000 years ago (40 ka BP). The fate of our species versus the demise of Neanderthals, the geospatial timing of this process, the behavioural implications of their interaction, are hotly debated topics in archaeology. In this context, chronology plays a pivotal role, with radiocarbon (14C) dating representing the backbone back to 50 ka BP. However, due to varying atmospheric 14C concentrations in the past, the method requires calibration to an independently dated archive. So far, only the past 14 ka BP can profit from the most direct natural archive of 14C activity, which are annually resolved tree-ring chronologies. Before this time, temporal resolution is remarkably lower and different calibration records disagree, leading to discrepancies in the calibration of up to 2000 years. This project aims to achieve for the first time an accurate and highly resolved chronology back to 50 ka BP, to establish the timing of when AMHs arrived in Europe, their interaction with Neanderthals and the final cause of Neanderthal extinction. The project involves fieldwork in Mediterranean and southeast Europe to find more glacial trees, the study of the existing collection of glacial conifers, exceptional 14C precision for 14C dates in the Glacial, and the cutting-edge methodology in linking floating tree-ring chronologies to 10Be on the ice core scale. The results of this work will be crucial in solving some of the most interesting puzzles in European prehistory. With tree-rings, the resolution will be an order of magnitude higher, and using the most recent advances in the AMS technique, we will obtain confidence intervals of only a few centuries in glacial times. This project will be of pivotal importance for key periods in human evolution.

Project details

Unibo Team Leader: Sahra Talamo

Unibo involved Department/s:
Dipartimento di Chimica "Giacomo Ciamician"

ALMA MATER STUDIORUM - Università di Bologna(Italy)

Other Participants:
Universität Hohenheim (Germany)
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften e.V. on behalf of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Germany)

Total Eu Contribution: Euro (EUR) 1.499.381,00
Project Duration in months: 72
Start Date: 01/06/2019
End Date: 31/05/2025

Cordis webpage

Sustainable cities This project contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

UE flag This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 803147