The challenge of dating early pleistocene fossil teeth by the combined uranium series–electron spin resonance method: the Venta Micena palaeontological site (Orce, Spain)



The palaeontological site of Venta Micena (Orce, Andalusia, Spain) lies in the eastern sector of the Guadix–Baza basin, one of the best documented areas in Europe for Plio-Pleistocene biostratigraphy. The combination of biochronological and palaeomagnetic results, combined with the radiometric data obtained for Atapuerca Sima del Elefante, indicated that the Venta Micena stratum was formed between the Jaramillo and Olduvai palaeomagnetic events, most likely between 1.22 and 1.77 Ma. Five fossil teeth from two outcrops (sites A and B) were selected to assess the potential of combined uranium series–electron spin resonance (US-ESR) dating of Early Pleistocene sites. Although the US-ESR results of the first outcrop showed a large scatter between the three teeth, the mean age of 1.37 ± 0.24 Ma can be considered a reasonable age estimate for Venta Micena. The mean ESR age of 0.62 ± 0.03 Ma obtained for site B seems to be a severe underestimation when compared with the independent age control. This underestimation is attributed to a relative recent U-mobilization event that led to some U-leaching. The results show that any ESR age calculations of old samples are extremely sensitive to variations in the measured 230Th/234U ratios in dental tissues. Although the results demonstrate that ESR can in principle be applied to Early Pleistocene sites, they also reveal the complexity of dating such old teeth. It is necessary to continue research in several directions, such as study of the behaviour of ESR signals in old teeth and understanding recent U-mobilization processes, to improve the reliability of the combined US-ESR dating method applied to Early Pleistocene times, a period for which the number of available numerical dating techniques is very limited. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.