A fossil hominin tooth from the site of Barranco León (Orce, Spain) has recently been estimated to be close to 1.4 mya old. This is based on Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) in combination with paleomagnetic and biochronologic data. This find was recently published as the oldest from Western Europe in the Journal of Human Evolution. A reply by Giovanni Muttoni et al., however, now sheds doubts on the certainty of this assigned age. They proceed to give a detailed account of potential ambiguities in the technical procedures of the ESR ages, as well as in relation to the interpretation of the associated microfauna. They call for more caution when interpreting the age of the fossil, and postulate that all that can be said with certainty is that it is older than 0.78ma because of the reverse polarity.
Muttoni and colleagues further propose an alternative model, based on a critical assessment of key sites from Italy, France and Spain. They suggest that the first occupation of Europe coincided with MIS-22 (ca. 870,000 years ago), a prominent cold stage that is characterised by aridification of North Africa and related large mammal migration. We look forward to reading a subsequent reply by the Orce team on these critiques and rest assured that the last word on this topic is far from being said.
Giovanni Muttoni, G.; Scardia, G. and Kent, D.V. 2013. A critique of evidence for human occupation of Europe older than the Jaramillo subchron (∼1 Ma): Comment on ‘The oldest human fossil in Europe from Orce (Spain)’ by Toro-Moyano et al. (2013). Journal of Human Evolution, Available online 17 October 2013.
Toro-Moyano, I. et al. 2013.The oldest human fossil in Europe, from Orce (Spain). Journal of Human Evolution 65(1), 1–9.