The chronology of the earliest Upper Palaeolithic in northern Iberia: New insights from L'Arbreda, Labeko Koba and La Viña.
Since the late 1980s, northern Iberia has yielded some of the earliest radiocarbon dated Aurignacian assemblages in Western Europe, probably produced by anatomically modern humans (AMHs). This is at odds with its location furthest from the likely eastern entry point of AMHs, and has also suggested to some that the Châtelperronian resulted from cultural transfer from AMHs to Neanderthals. However, the accuracy of the early chronology has been extensively disputed, primarily because of the poor association between the dated samples and human activity. Here, we test the chronology of three sites in northern Iberia, L'Arbreda, Labeko Koba and La Viña, by radiocarbon dating ultrafiltered collagen from anthropogenically modified bones. The published dates from Labeko Koba are shown to be significant underestimates due to the insufficient removal of young contaminants. The early (c.44 ka cal BP [thousands of calibrated years before present]) Aurignacian chronology at L'Arbreda cannot be reproduced, but the reason for this is difficult to ascertain. The existing chronology of La Viña is found to be approximately correct. Together, the evidence suggests that major changes in technocomplexes occurred contemporaneously between the Mediterranean and Atlantic regions of northern Iberia, with the Aurignacian appearing around 42 ka cal BP, a date broadly consistent with the appearance of this industry elsewhere in Western Europe.