Vito Volterra

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




H.P. Schwarcz


This study was undertaken to provide supporting evidence for the late presence of Neanderthals in Iberia at the end of the Middle Paleolithic. This period is almost impossible to date accurately by the conventional radiocarbon method. Accordingly electron spin resonance (ESR) was used to obtain ages for four Spanish sites. They were El Pendo in the Cantabrian north, Carihuela in Andalusia and Gorham's and Vanguard caves at Gibraltar. The sites were chosen to allow the greatest variety in geographic settings, latitudes and sedimentation. They were either under excavation or had been excavated recently following modern techniques. A multidisciplinary approach to dating the archaeological contexts was being proposed for all the sites except El Pendo whose deposits had been already dated but only on the basis of sedimentological and faunal analyses. This was the first research program to apply ESR to such a variety of sites and compare its results with that of such a variety of other archaeometric dating techniques. The variety allowed a further dimension to the research that is the opportunity of appraising first hand the applicability and advantages of a new dating technique and determining its accuracy as an archaeological dating method in comparison with other techniques. Test samples for the research were collected at the sites as well as at the Museo de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid and the Gibraltar Museum. The ESR results for El Pendo provide a terminus post quem of 31 Ka for the presence of the Neanderthal at the site. Those for Carihuela permit the Neanderthal skeletal remains found in layers V and VI to be dated between 45 ka and 74 ka and between 67 ka and 86 ka respectively. The data also confirm the late presence of the Neanderthals in Andalusia. The results for the Gibraltar final Mousterian layer also confirm the presence of Neanderthals in southern Spain at 36.9 ± 5 to 40.3 ± 5 ka. While there are a number of secure dates for early Aurignacian deposits in Spain the results of the present research provide the first solid evidence of the late presence of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis in the Iberian Peninsula. Furthermore, from the data collected it can also be concluded that the ESR method is accurate and eminently suitable for dating archaeological contexts.

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