Neanderthal dating problem, described in ScienceDaily 26 October 2010 and PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1007963107 23 November 2010. A cave known as the Grotte du Renne at Arcy-sur-Cure in France contains artefacts such as rings made of ivory, awls, bone points, pierced animal teeth, shell and ivory pendants, along with tools for making these. The cave has 15 archaeological layers and these artefacts seemed to be associated with Neanderthal remains in layers VII, IX, X, which are classified as belonging to the Châtelperronian industry, a tool culture thought to have evolved from the earlier Neanderthal, Mousterian industry. These findings led to some debate about whether Neanderthals could have been so sophisticated as to make jewellery.

Researchers from the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit carried out radioactive dating of items from these levels as well as another level associated with modern humans, known as the Aurignacian level. Their results showed an “unexpected degree of variation”. Some of the Châtelperronian dates were much younger or around the same age as dates from the Aurignacian level. The most serious problems were in the oldest part of the Châtelperronian layer (X) where more than a third of the radiocarbon ages were outside the ranges expected. Thomas Higham, Deputy Director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, commented: “Our results confirm that material has moved up and down and is out of sequence in the Châtelperronian levels. We think that there has probably been some physical disturbance which has disrupted the proper sequence of the layers. This means that any chronological interpretation from this site should be viewed with extreme caution.”


Editorial Comment: This study, and the researchers’ conclusion, remind us how much assumption goes into dating historic artefacts, fossils and rocks when the only evidence you have is in the present. Notice, they assumed the carbon 14 dates were absolute, so the dates estimated by archaeological techniques had to be altered to fit around them, which meant re-interpreting the layers. Now it is quite possible the layers had been disturbed by animals or people, since this has been found to be a problem in other archaeological sites. (For example: “The Role of Armadillos in the Movement of Archaeological Materials: An Experimental Approach”, Astolfo G. Mello Araujo and José Carlos Marcelino, Geoarchaeology, vol. 18, no. 4, April 2003, pp. 433-60.) However, carbon dating is based on a number of assumptions, the most significant is that the level of carbon 14 in the atmosphere is at equilibrium, and therefore all the specimens started out with the same levels of C14. This is not true as the rate of production is still greater than the rate of decay (see article by Curt Sewell here)

A similar problem to that in the French cave occurred when Spanish Neanderthal sites were dated in 2009. At that time Chronis Tzedakis, of University of Leeds explained: “The radiocarbon chronometer is like a clock that is sometimes running faster, and sometimes stops”. The only way to really know what happened in the past is to have reliable historic testimony from witnesses who were there to see it. All findings in the present need to be interpreted in light of such testimony, but as we have often stated, one of the real problems in dating is that modern naturalistic science accepts no authority from recorded history, and becomes its own arrogant author and rewriter of all history. (Ref. time, ages, chronology, archaeology)

Evidence News 2 November 2011