Monthly Archives: March 2011

Combe Capelle redated

The site of Combe Capelle is located in the Dordogne region in the South of France. It was excavated in 1909 by Swiss archaeologist Otto Hauser. The burial was of a man who died between 40-50 years of age. He was buried in a shallow pit with numerous grave goods, including a necklace of perforated shells. The burial was believed to date to around 30,000 years ago. There is scant evidence for inhumations from this early period and the presence of grave goods is more typical of later periods.

Much of the early anthropological research was carried out under the presumption of racial types. New fossils were pigeonholed into discrete racial categories. The Grimaldi “negroid” race was readily accepted despite problems in the reconstructions of the type specimens. Similarly, the Chancelade race was believed to show strong affinities with modern Eskimos. Upon their analysis of the Combe Capelle skeleton, Hauser along with anthropologist Heinz Klaatsch gave it the designation Homo aurignacensis hauseri, a second dolichocephalic race from the Upper Palaeolithic alongside Cro-Magnon. A number of researchers drew parallels between the Combe Capelle, Galley Hill, and Brno types, which were all believed to be of great antiquity. The English Galley Hill remains were subsequently subjected to fluorine dating methods and found to be a recent intrusive burial into older geological layers. There is one direct date for the Czech Brno specimens the put it at just over 20,000 years old, although there is still some debate as to the age of the rest of the Brno material. While most researchers ended up grouping the Combe Capelle specimen in the Cro-Magnon race, i.e. Homo sapiens, other researchers continued to refer to a Combe Capelle type as late at the 1980s.

After their excavation, the Combe Capelle skeletal remains were sold to the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin, where they were lost and believed to have been destroyed since the last World War. Some of the charred postcranial remains were subsequently found among the rubble of the bombed-out museum. The skull was believed to have been lost forever until its fortuitous rediscovery in 2001.

A sample of collagen from the tooth enamel of the Combe Capelle specimen was sent to a laboratory in Kiel in 2009 for dating. The recently announced results confirm the suspicions of those who questioned the skeleton’s antiquity. The new date places the man of Combe Capelle in the Mesolithic period, around 9500 years ago. The Combe Capelle skeleton is one of many that have been redated in the past decade and have been shown to be of more recent antiquity. The redating of the Combe Capelle, Vogelherd, Velika Pećina, Hahnöfersand and many other specimens to the Holocene period means that there are now very few skeletal remains that date to the Aurignacian and makes the association of modern humans with this technology more uncertain than ever.