The time between Palaeolithic hearths

Nature. 2024 Jun;630(8017):666-670. doi: 10.1038/s41586-024-07467-0. Epub 2024 Jun 5.


Resolving the timescale of human activity in the Palaeolithic Age is one of the most challenging problems in prehistoric archaeology. The duration and frequency of hunter-gatherer camps reflect key aspects of social life and human-environment interactions. However, the time dimension of Palaeolithic contexts is generally inaccurately reconstructed because of the limitations of dating techniques1, the impact of disturbing agents on sedimentary deposits2 and the palimpsest effect3,4. Here we report high-resolution time differences between six Middle Palaeolithic hearths from El Salt Unit X (Spain) obtained through archaeomagnetic and archaeostratigraphic analyses. The set of hearths covers at least around 200-240 years with 99% probability, having decade- and century-long intervals between the different hearths. Our results provide a quantitative estimate of the time framework for the human occupation events included in the studied sequence. This is a step forward in Palaeolithic archaeology, a discipline in which human behaviour is usually approached from a temporal scale typical of geological processes, whereas significant change may happen at the smaller scales of human generations. Here we reach a timescale close to a human lifespan.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Archaeology*
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry
  • History, Ancient
  • Human Activities / history
  • Humans
  • Spain
  • Time Factors