A multi-technique dating study of two Lower Palaeolithic sites from the Cher valley (Middle Loire Catchment, France): Lunery-la Terre-des-Sablons and Brinay-la Noira

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Duval, Mathieu
Voinchet, Pierre
Arnold, Lee J
Parés, Josep M
Minnella, Walter
Guilarte, Verónica
Demuro, Martina
Falguères, Christophe
Bahain, Jean-Jacques
Despriée, Jackie
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We present the results of a new dating study carried out at Lunery-la Terre-des-Sablons (LTS) and Brinay-la Noira (BN), two key Lower Palaeolithic sites located in deposits associated to the Cher River (Middle Loire Catchment, France). These sites preserve abundant Mode 1 and Mode 2 lithic industries, and are considered as among the oldest evidence of hominin presence in Western Europe north of the 45°N latitude. Following a multi-technique approach combining electron spin resonance (ESR), single-grain thermally-transferred optically stimulated luminescence (TT-OSL) dating of quartz grains and palaeomagnetism, we obtain new chronological constraints for the sedimentary sequence, and the associated lithic assemblages, at the two sites.

The new independent dating results derived from each method are consistent and in overall agreement with existing ESR and terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide (TCN) age estimates, except for the Lowermost Unit 3 at LTS. By integrating all of the previous and new dating results, we derive combined age estimates of 772-735 ka and 665 ± 29 ka for the fluvial sands at LTS (Unit 1) and BN, respectively. These two distinct aggradation phases may tentatively be correlated to interglacial/glacial transitions associated with Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 19-18 for the former and MIS 17-16 for the latter.

At BN, an age range of 638–676 ka may be proposed for the hominin occupation after combining numerical age results and geological evidence. This result is consistent with the initial chronology proposed by Moncel et al. (2013) [Moncel, M.H., Despriée, J., Voinchet, P., Tissoux, H., Moreno, D., Bahain, J. J., Courcimault, G., Falgueres, C. (2013). Early evidence of Acheulean settlement in north-western Europe – la Noira site, a 700 000 year-old occupation in the Centre of France. Plos One, 8(11): 1–22] and confirms that BN is among the oldest Acheulean occurrences in Western Europe.

At LTS, the mean age of 710 ± 50 ka obtained for the sandy layer in Unit 3 provides a minimum age constraint for the archaeological level located below. The major sedimentary disconformity observed between the fluvial deposits and the underlying pebble layers hosting the lithic artefacts suggests that the true age of the artefacts might be significantly older, probably Early Pleistocene given their similarities with other Mode 1 assemblages identified in Western Europe. However, further refinement of the Mode 1 chronological inference at LTS remains difficult at this stage.

Finally, these new dating results show the importance of using the Multiple Centre approach for ESR dating of quartz grains, and confirm the value of combining different dating methods in order to build more robust chronologies for Lower Palaeolithic sites in Europe.

From a methodological point of view, the dating results presented here are especially encouraging for the reliability of the ESR method applied to optically bleached quartz grains. This is one of the very first studies demonstrating that samples independently dated by two different laboratories may produce generally reproducible ESR age results.

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Quaternary International

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© 2020 Elsevier Ltd and the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA). Published by Elsevier Ltd. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/) which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, providing that the work is properly cited.

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Duval, M; Voinchet, P; Arnold, LJ; Parés, JM; Minnella, W; Guilarte, V; Demuro, M; Falguères, C; Bahain, J-J; Despriée, J, A multi-technique dating study of two Lower Palaeolithic sites from the Cher valley (Middle Loire Catchment, France): Lunery-la Terre-des-Sablons and Brinay-la Noira, Quaternary International, 2020