Radiocarbon dating of the European Middle to Upper Palaeolithic using ultrafiltration AMS

Thomas Higham (Speaker), Roger Jacobi (Contributor), Laura Basell (Contributor), Woods Rachel (Contributor), Katerina Douka (Contributor), Christopher Bronk Ramsey (Advisor)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Abstract: AMS radiocarbon dating of bone is particularly challenging when the material is poorly preserved and yields of extractable collagen are low (<1% wt.). Problems are further magnified when the ‘true’ age approaches the background limit of the method (c. 0.2-0.1 pMC; 50-55 ka). This situation has hampered our ability to radiocarbon date the Late Middle Palaeolithic and the transition to the Upper Palaeolithic. Research in Oxford has focussed on developing more effective pre-treatment protocols for extracting and characterising Type 1 bone collagen, tripeptides or purified amino acids, and validating AMS measurements obtained using a suite of analytical parameters. These latter include carbon to nitrogen atomic ratios (CN), % weight collagen, % carbon and stable isotope analyses of C and N. Our current method comprises the gelatinisation of the bone using well-established techniques, with additional ultrafiltration of the soluble gelatin using a 30kDalton molecular weight ultrafilter. Ultrafiltration enables collagen of a demonstrably improved quality to be extracted, as shown by CN ratios and other analytical parameters. It also enables poor quality collagen samples to identified and excluded from dating. We have concentrated in the last 5 years on redating a substantial corpus of British Middle and Upper Palaeolithic material using this technique. The results are discussed in previous papers (Jacobi et al., 2006; Higham et al., 2006). In some instances, there have been significant changes in the chronologies of some previously dated sites. With funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), we have now extended this work to the continent. Sites from Germany, Spain, France, Belgium and Italy are the subject of this chronometric reinvestigation. Of particular interest are samples of human bone, bone tools and ornaments, and cut-bone. In addition, marine shell ornaments are being dated using novel preparative techniques. New radiocarbon results from some of the sites under examination will be presented, and the implications for our understanding of the chronology of the earliest Aurignacian and final Mousterian in western Europe will be discussed.

References:Higham, T.F.G., Jacobi, R.M and Bronk Ramsey, C. 2006. AMS radiocarbon dating of ancient bone using ultrafiltration. Radiocarbon 48(2): 179-195. Jacobi, R.M, Higham, T.F.G.and Bronk Ramsey, C. 2006. AMS radiocarbon dating of Middle and Upper Palaeolithic bone in the British Isles: improved reliability using ultrafiltration. Journal of Quaternary Science 21(5): 557-73.
Period23 Oct 2008
Event titlePalaeolithic Mesolithic Day
Event typeConference
LocationLondon, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionNational