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The Age and Context of the KC4 Maxilla, Kent's Cavern, UK

  • Chris Proctor (a1), Katerina Douka (a2), Janet W. Proctor (a3) and Tom Higham (a2) (a4)
Abstract

Kent's Cavern is one of Britain's most important Palaeolithic sites. The Torquay Natural History Society excavations in the Vestibule (1926–1928 and 1932–1938) yielded Middle and Early Upper Palaeolithic deposits as well as a fragment of human jaw (KC4). Higham et al. (2011) recently identified it as the oldest modern human fossil known from North West Europe, with a date estimated, using Bayesian modelling, at 44,200–41,500 cal bp (at 95.4% probability). However, White and Pettitt (2012) and Zilhão (2013) have claimed that the poor quality of the excavations and lack of stratigraphic integrity cast doubt on the archaeological and dating evidence from the site. Here, we present a thorough re-analysis of the excavations and show that they were in fact conducted to a reasonable standard. We also carefully examine the stratigraphic and sedimentological sequence and present twelve new AMS determinations from key contexts to test the previous model and chronology. We find that, while Trench C has good stratigraphic integrity, there is some evidence of post-depositional disruption of certain parts; some post-depositional movement is also shown by a limited number of artefact refits. There are two outlying AMS determinations dating to c. 32,000 bp. We therefore cannot exclude completely the possibility that the maxilla's age could be younger than the published probability distribution function (PDF). Our analysis lends support to the assessment by Higham et al. (2011) of the site and KC4 and shows that it offers considerable potential for future study.

Kent's Cavern est un des sites paléolithiques les plus importants de Grande Bretagne. Des fouilles entreprises entre 1926 et 1928 et de 1932 à 1938 par la Torquay Natural History Society dans le vestibule de cette grotte ont révélé des couches du Paléolithique Moyen et du début du Paléolithique Supérieur ainsi qu'un fragment de maxillaire humain (KC4). Il y a quelques années Higham et al. (2011) ont déterminé qu'il s'agissait du fragment de squelette le plus ancien d'Europe du nord-ouest, sur la base d'une datation (utilisant une modélisation statistique bayésienne) estimée autour de 44,200–41,500 cal bp (à 95,4% de probabilité). Mais White et Pettitt (2012) ainsi que Zilhão (2013) ont affirmé que la qualité médiocre des fouilles et le manque d'intégrité stratigraphique mettent en doute les données archéologiques et chronologiques provenant du site. Notre article contient une nouvelle analyse de ces fouilles qui démontre qu'elles avaient été relativement bien effectuées. Nous examinons également en détail la séquence stratigraphique et sédimentologie et publions 12 nouvelles dates radiocarbone AMS provenant de contextes clefs pour la vérification de la chronologie et de l'interprétation proposées précédemment. Il en ressort que la tranchée C n'est pas compromise du point de vue stratigraphique mais que certaines parties avaient été remaniées ultérieurement; le remontage d'une quantité restreinte d'objets témoigne aussi que certains remaniements avaient eu lieu après déposition. Deux dates AMS autour de 32,000 bp sortent du cadre chronologique proposé. Nous ne pouvons donc pas exclure catégoriquement que le maxillaire soit plus récent que la fonction de densité de probabilité (PDF) publiée. Nos analyses corroborent l’évaluation du site et de KC4 publiée par Higham et al. (2011) et laissent penser qu'il existe un potentiel considérable pour des études ultérieures. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

Kent's Cavern ist eine der bedeutendsten paläolithischen Fundstätten in Großbritannien. Die Torquay Natural History Society hat von 1926 bis 1928 und zwischen 1932 und 1938 Ausgrabungen im Vestibül der Höhle durchgeführt und dort Schichten des Mittelpaläolithikums und frühen Jungpaläolithikums, und auch das Bruchstück eines menschlichen Oberkiefers (KC4) aufgedeckt. Letztlich haben Higham et al. (2011) bestimmt, dass es sich um das älteste bekannte menschliche Fossil aus Nordwesteuropa handelt, und haben es, dank einer bayesschen Modellierung, um 44,200–41,500 cal bp datiert (mit 95,4 % Wahrscheinlichkeit). White und Pettitt (2012) und Zilhão (2013) haben aber behauptet, dass die Qualität der Ausgrabungen nicht genügend war und dass die Stratigrafie mangelhaft war, sodass die archäologischen Befunde und chronologischen Belege wohl bezweifelt werden müssen. Der vorliegende Artikel enthält eine grundsätzliche neue Analyse der Ausgrabungen; es wird hier gezeigt, dass diese relativ gut durchgeführt worden waren. Wir haben auch die stratigrafische und sedimentologische Nachfolge sorgfältig untersucht und veröffentlichen 12 neue AMS-Radiokarbondatierungen von Kontexten, die maßgebend für die Überprüfung der veröffentlichten Chronologie und Modells sind. Es lässt sich daraus schließen, dass Schnitt C stratigrafisch zuverlässig ist. Störungen nach der Ablagerung sind aber auch in gewissen Teilen der Grabung belegt und Bewegungen von Material nach der Ablagerung sind auch durch die Wiederzusammenfügung von bestimmten Artefakten nachgewiesen. Zwei AMS-Datierungen von ca. 32,000 bp fallen aus dem Rahmen. Es kann also nicht kategorisch ausgeschlossen werden, dass das Alter des KC4 Oberkiefers jünger als die veröffentlichte Wahrscheinlichkeitsdichtefunktion (WDF = PDF) sein kann. Die Ergebnisse unserer Untersuchungen unterstützen die Auswertung des Befundes und des Oberkiefers KC4 von Higham et al. (2011) und zeigen, dass es potenziell noch viele Möglichkeiten gibt, weitere Untersuchungen durchzuführen. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

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