Magnetic susceptibility applied as an age-depth-climate relative dating technique using sediments from Scladina Cave, a Late Pleistocene cave site in Belgium

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Here we demonstrate that magnetic susceptibility (MS) data from Scladina Cave, Belgium, provide a time-depth-climate relationship that is correlated to the marine oxygen isotopic record and thus yields a high-resolution relative dating method for sediments recovered from many archaeological sites. This methodology will help resolve one of the major problems facing archaeologists, namely the difficulty of acquiring absolute dates with reasonable precision for the period from 40,000 to 400,000 years or so. The problem is that dating techniques applicable to most materials within this age range are subject to significant errors. Relative dating techniques, such as magnetic secular variation or stable isotope methods, offer the potential to improve this precision, but both methods suffer from problems that make broad application to many sites impossible. However, for most archaeological cave sites, MS measurements of cave sediments offers the potential for intra-site correlation and paleoclimate estimation. This is possible in protected cave environments because the MS of cave sediments results from climate processes active outside caves, which cause variations in magnetic properties of the sediments that ultimately accumulate inside caves. Once deposited, these materials are often preserved and their stratigraphy provides a time-depth-climate signal that can be identified. Therefore MS data can be used as an independent methodology, alongside conventional methods such as sedimentology and palynology, for relative age dates, and correlation within and between sites by tracing evidence of paleoclimatic change. This correlation has been used to infer an age of 90,000 ± 7000 years for Neanderthal skeletal remains recovered from Scladina Cave, an important Middle Paleolithic archaeological site in Belgium. © 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Journal of Archaeological Science

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