The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Peeling back the layers: additional evidence for the date of the Petralona skull (Homo heidelbergensis), Greece


1Anthropology, University of Waterloo, ON, Canada, 2Anaximandrian Institute of Human Evolution, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece

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A controversial fossil hominin is the Petralona skull, discovered in northern Greece in 1960 by local villagers. The cave was later excavated, but the exact findspot of the skull is not known with absolute certainty. The specimen is nearly complete, but the date remains controversial. The consensus now assigns the skull to H. heidelbergensis, as one of the earliest known in the European Neanderthal lineage. A. Poulianos suggested a date of about 700-800 ka. ESR and U-series dates have also been attempted, producing a wide range of results, in part because of the lack of definitive association between the deposits and the skull. ESR dates by Henning et al. on the brown speleothem deposited on the skull itself can provide the only truly reliable dates, and suggest a date of 200+40 ka. However, N. Poulianos suggested in 2005 that the upper part of the Petralona skull was covered by both a white (older) and brown (younger) layer of sinter (speleothem). He reasoned that because only the brown layer was dated, the skull is much older. We examined the skull for evidence of white sinter in the skull. We found all the sinter left in the recesses of the skull, such as the sutures, was of the brown type. We conclude that there is no white sinter deposited directly on the skull and therefore the initial date of the skull given by Henning et al. and Grun’s revised date of ca. 200 ka are correct.

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