Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Radiocarbon dating


Almost 150 years after the first identification of Neandertal skeletal material, the cognitive and symbolic abilities of these populations remain a subject of intense debate. We present 99 new Neandertal remains from the Troisième caverne of Goyet (Belgium) dated to 40,500-45,500 calBP. The remains were identified through a multidisciplinary study that combines morphometrics, taphonomy, stable isotopes, radiocarbon dating and genetic analyses. The Goyet Neandertal bones show distinctive anthropogenic modifications, which provides clear evidence for butchery activities as well as four bones having been used for retouching stone tools. In addition to being the first site to have yielded multiple Neandertal bones used as retouchers, Goyet not only provides the first unambiguous evidence of Neandertal cannibalism in Northern Europe, but also highlights considerable diversity in mortuary behaviour among the region’s late Neandertal population in the period immediately preceding their disappearance.

Concepts: Belgium, Northern Europe, Neanderthal, Carbon-14, Psychology, Critical thinking, Radiocarbon dating, Isotope


The timing of the first entry of humans into North America is still hotly debated within the scientific community. Excavations conducted at Bluefish Caves (Yukon Territory) from 1977 to 1987 yielded a series of radiocarbon dates that led archaeologists to propose that the initial dispersal of human groups into Eastern Beringia (Alaska and the Yukon Territory) occurred during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). This hypothesis proved highly controversial in the absence of other sites of similar age and concerns about the stratigraphy and anthropogenic signature of the bone assemblages that yielded the dates. The weight of the available archaeological evidence suggests that the first peopling of North America occurred ca. 14,000 cal BP (calibrated years Before Present), i.e., well after the LGM. Here, we report new AMS radiocarbon dates obtained on cut-marked bone samples identified during a comprehensive taphonomic analysis of the Bluefish Caves fauna. Our results demonstrate that humans occupied the site as early as 24,000 cal BP (19,650 ± 130 14C BP). In addition to proving that Bluefish Caves is the oldest known archaeological site in North America, the results offer archaeological support for the “Beringian standstill hypothesis”, which proposes that a genetically isolated human population persisted in Beringia during the LGM and dispersed from there to North and South America during the post-LGM period.

Concepts: Whitehorse, Yukon, Pleistocene, Radiocarbon dating, Yukon, Archaeology, Canada, Alaska, North America


Previous studies document Nukuleka in the Kingdom of Tonga as a founder colony for first settlement of Polynesia by Lapita peoples. A limited number of radiocarbon dates are one line of evidence supporting this claim, but they cannot precisely establish when this event occurred, nor can they afford a detailed chronology for sequent occupation. High precision U/Th dates of Acropora coral files (abraders) from Nukuleka give unprecedented resolution, identifying the founder event by 2838±8 BP and documenting site development over the ensuing 250 years. The potential for dating error due to post depositional diagenetic alteration of ancient corals at Nukuleka also is addressed through sample preparation protocols and paired dates on spatially separated samples for individual specimens. Acropora coral files are widely distributed in Lapita sites across Oceania. U/Th dating of these artifacts provides unparalleled opportunities for greater precision and insight into the speed and timing of this final chapter in human settlement of the globe.

Concepts: Coral, Samoa, Founder effect, Fiji, Radiocarbon dating, Tonga, Lapita, Polynesia


Carbon-14 measurements on 231 elephant ivory specimens from 14 large ivory seizures (≥0.5 ton) made between 2002 and 2014 show that most ivory (ca 90%) was derived from animals that had died less than 3 y before ivory was confiscated. This indicates that the assumption of recent elephant death for mortality estimates of African elephants is correct: Very little “old” ivory is included in large ivory shipments from Africa. We found only one specimen of the 231 analyzed to have a lag time longer than 6 y. Patterns of trade differ by regions: East African ivory, based on genetic assignments of geographic origin, has a much higher fraction of “rapid” transit than ivory originating in the Tridom region of Cameroon-Gabon-Congo. Carbon-14 is an important tool in understanding patterns of movement of illegal wildlife products.

Concepts: Radiocarbon dating, Carbon-14, African Bush Elephant, Ivory, Asian Elephant, Elephants, Elephant


Ecosystems on the verge of major reorganization-regime shift-may exhibit declining resilience, which can be detected using a collection of generic statistical tests known as early warning signals (EWSs). This study explores whether EWSs anticipated human population collapse during the European Neolithic. It analyzes recent reconstructions of European Neolithic (8-4 kya) population trends that reveal regime shifts from a period of rapid growth following the introduction of agriculture to a period of instability and collapse. We find statistical support for EWSs in advance of population collapse. Seven of nine regional datasets exhibit increasing autocorrelation and variance leading up to collapse, suggesting that these societies began to recover from perturbation more slowly as resilience declined. We derive EWS statistics from a prehistoric population proxy based on summed archaeological radiocarbon date probability densities. We use simulation to validate our methods and show that sampling biases, atmospheric effects, radiocarbon calibration error, and taphonomic processes are unlikely to explain the observed EWS patterns. The implications of these results for understanding the dynamics of Neolithic ecosystems are discussed, and we present a general framework for analyzing societal regime shifts using EWS at large spatial and temporal scales. We suggest that our findings are consistent with an adaptive cycling model that highlights both the vulnerability and resilience of early European populations. We close by discussing the implications of the detection of EWS in human systems for archaeology and sustainability science.

Concepts: Sociology, World population, Sustainability, Europe, Scientific method, Statistics, Population, Radiocarbon dating


During the Last Glacial Maximum, continental ice sheets isolated Beringia (northeast Siberia and northwest North America) from unglaciated North America. By around 15 to 14 thousand calibrated radiocarbon years before present (cal. kyr bp), glacial retreat opened an approximately 1,500-km-long corridor between the ice sheets. It remains unclear when plants and animals colonized this corridor and it became biologically viable for human migration. We obtained radiocarbon dates, pollen, macrofossils and metagenomic DNA from lake sediment cores in a bottleneck portion of the corridor. We find evidence of steppe vegetation, bison and mammoth by approximately 12.6 cal. kyr bp, followed by open forest, with evidence of moose and elk at about 11.5 cal. kyr bp, and boreal forest approximately 10 cal. kyr bp. Our findings reveal that the first Americans, whether Clovis or earlier groups in unglaciated North America before 12.6 cal. kyr bp, are unlikely to have travelled by this route into the Americas. However, later groups may have used this north-south passageway.

Concepts: Last glacial period, Radiocarbon dating, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Models of migration to the New World, Glaciology, Americas, United States, North America


A long held view about the occupation of southern proto-Jê pit house villages of the southern Brazilian highlands is that these sites represent cycles of long-term abandonment and reoccupation. However, this assumption is based on an insufficient number of radiocarbon dates for individual pit houses. To address this problem, we conducted a programme of comprehensive AMS radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling at the deeply stratified oversized pit House 1, Baggio I site (Cal. A.D. 1395-1650), Campo Belo do Sul, Santa Catarina state, Brazil. The stratigraphy of House 1 revealed an unparalleled sequence of twelve well preserved floors evidencing a major change in occupation dynamics including five completely burnt collapsed roofs. The results of the radiocarbon dating allowed us to understand for the first time the occupation dynamics of an oversized pit house in the southern Brazilian highlands. The Bayesian model demonstrates that House 1 was occupied for over two centuries with no evidence of major periods of abandonment, calling into question previous models of long-term abandonment. In addition, the House 1 sequence allowed us to tie transformations in ceramic style and lithic technology to an absolute chronology. Finally, we can provide new evidence that the emergence of oversized domestic structures is a relatively recent phenomenon among the southern proto-Jê. As monumental pit houses start to be built, small pit houses continue to be inhabited, evidencing emerging disparities in domestic architecture after AD 1000. Our research shows the importance of programmes of intensive dating of individual structures to understand occupation dynamics and site permanence, and challenges long held assumptions that the southern Brazilian highlands were home to marginal cultures in the context of lowland South America.

Concepts: Joinville, German Brazilian, Yaodong, Florianópolis, Chronology, Santa Catarina, House, Radiocarbon dating


For more than 40 y, there has been an active discussion over the presence and economic importance of maize (Zea mays) during the Late Archaic period (3000-1800 B.C.) in ancient Peru. The evidence for Late Archaic maize has been limited, leading to the interpretation that it was present but used primarily for ceremonial purposes. Archaeological testing at a number of sites in the Norte Chico region of the north central coast provides a broad range of empirical data on the production, processing, and consumption of maize. New data drawn from coprolites, pollen records, and stone tool residues, combined with 126 radiocarbon dates, demonstrate that maize was widely grown, intensively processed, and constituted a primary component of the diet throughout the period from 3000 to 1800 B.C.

Concepts: Diet of Japan, Midwestern United States, Mexico, North America, Zea, Flower, Radiocarbon dating, Maize


Fullerenols have wide application in the field of life sciences due to their extensive biocompatibility and biofunctionality. However, their environmental fate and ecotoxicological risks are largely unknown. In this study, stable isotope (13C) labeling was applied to investigate the bioaccumulation and depuration of fullerenols in daphnia magna (D. magna). By incorporating 13C on the skeleton of fullerenols, the concentrations of fullerenols in the samples could be precisely determined based on carbon isotope ratios (13C/12C). After exposure to 13C-labeled fullerenols in artificial freshwater for 48 h, the steady concentrations of fullerenols in D. magna were nearly 0.39% and 1.37% of the dry body-weight in the 0.1 and 1.0 mg/l exposure groups, respectively. After 48 h depuration, D. magna could excrete 97.34% and 89.56% of the accumulated fullerenols in 0.1 and 1.0 mg/l exposure group, respectively. The depuration of fullerenols from D. magna followed first-order kinetics. Moreover, accumulated fullerenols in gravid D. magna could be transferred to the next generation of neonates. The results in present study demonstrated that stable isotope (13C) labeling is a powerful tool to investigate the environmental fate and the potential impacts of fullerenols in ecological systems.

Concepts: Skeleton, Daphnia, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Radiocarbon dating, Next Generation, Natural environment, Carbon-13, Life


Current models of the peopling of the higher-elevation zones of the Tibetan Plateau postulate that permanent occupation could only have been facilitated by an agricultural lifeway at ~3.6 thousand calibrated carbon-14 years before present. Here we report a reanalysis of the chronology of the Chusang site, located on the central Tibetan Plateau at an elevation of ~4270 meters above sea level. The minimum age of the site is fixed at ~7.4 thousand years (thorium-230/uranium dating), with a maximum age between ~8.20 and 12.67 thousand calibrated carbon-14 years before present (carbon-14 assays). Travel cost modeling and archaeological data suggest that the site was part of an annual, permanent, preagricultural occupation of the central plateau. These findings challenge current models of the occupation of the Tibetan Plateau.

Concepts: Tibet, Central Asia, Above mean sea level, Tibet Autonomous Region, Chronology, Dendrochronology, Holocene calendar, Radiocarbon dating