A new study led by the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH) has revealed the first datings of a significant Paleolithic site in Italy. Published in the journal Quaternary Geochronology, this study presents findings that challenge previous beliefs about the chronology of Pirro Nord, located in Apricena, Italy, suggesting that this site could be much younger than initially thought.

To date, Pirro Nord had been considered a crucial point in understanding human presence in Western Europe due to the lithic tools and signs of human activity found at this karstic site in southern Italy. However, the new datings carried out by the research team using advanced methods have yielded surprising results, indicating an age of approximately 800,000 years, contradicting previous estimates and raising questions about the true age of the site.

The dating methods employed in this study, such as Electron Spin Resonance (ESR), Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), Uranium-Thorium Series, and Paleomagnetism, have provided consistent results pointing to this new antiquity for Pirro Nord.

Some of the pieces of Pirro Nord analyzed
Some of the pieces of Pirro Nord analyzed. Credit: CENIEH

The first time we compiled the obtained dates, we were very surprised because they were much more recent than expected, explains Mathieu Duval, lead author of the article. That’s why we had to ensure the quality and reliability of the data obtained, and in the end, it took us more than 10 years to finish this work.

This discovery poses two possible scenarios. On the one hand, the revised antiquity of Pirro Nord could challenge the established chronological framework for archaeopaleontological sites in Italy, suggesting that these sites could be younger than previously believed.

On the other hand, there is the possibility that the fossils and artifacts found at Pirro Nord may have been affected by geological processes, which could compromise the accuracy of direct datings on these remains.

Another view of the site of Pirro Nord
Another view of the site of Pirro Nord. Credit: CENIEH

In any case, at the very least, these new results complicate our understanding of the earliest human dispersals in the European continent, since until now, Pirro Nord was considered the only available evidence in Western Europe of more than 1.1-1.2 million years, supposedly older than the Spanish sites of Sima del Elefante, Fuente Nueva 3, and Barranco León or the one in Le Vallonnet in France, notes Mathieu Duval.



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