A review of the chronology of the European Middle Pleistocene hominid record

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Abstract

Over the last seventy years, European hominid fossils and associated archaeological remains have been dated by reference to the classical, fourfold glacial/interglacial subdivision of the Pleistocene. This method seemed relatively straightforward and precise especially as new discoveries were fitted into the schemes, apparently strengthening the correlations and increasing their validity. However, recent studies of deep-sea cores and terrestrial deposits, combined with new developments in relative and absolute dating, have shown that the fourfold schemes are oversimplified. This paper critically reviews some of the dating evidence from sites with hominid remains generally considered as Middle Pleistocene (ca. 700,000–128,000 BP). The hominid and archaeological remains are shown to require independent dating and a cautious approach is adopted towards the use of mammalian faunal remains as chronological indicators. The techniques and results of absolute dating are discussed with reference to present problems and future prospects. At a time of transition from an old framework to new correlations, it is inevitable that some conclusions seem tentative and others rather negative. Nevertheless, the Middle Pleistocene in Europe is more fully understood and better dated than the equivalent period in other parts of the world.

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