Mladec: 31,000 BP20 May 2005
A new paper in Nature (May 19, 2005) by Eva Wild and colleagues reports new AMS dates from the Mladec hominid sample. This site has been considered to preserve one of the earliest modern human samples in Europe, but its date has been uncertain. A previous attempt to date a layer overlying the hominid sample resulted in a minimum date of 34,000 - 35,000 years ago (Svoboda et al. 2002), but that date has been questioned. The current paper begins with a great introductory paragraph that reviews the problem of early modern humans in Europe:
The Mladec site has significance for both human evolutionary and archaeological issues and the relevance of its remains has increased as a result of the recent dating of the purportedly Aurignacian-age modern human remains from Velika Pecina (Croatia), Hahnofersand (Germany) and Vogelherd (Germany) to the Holocene epoch, the remains from Koneprusy (Czech Republic) to the Magdalenian period, and those from Cro-Magnon (France) and La Rochette (France) to the Gravettian period. The only directly dated European modern human fossils of Aurignacian age are the Pestera cu Oase (Romania) mandible and cranium at ~35,000 14C years before present (that is, ~35 14C kyr BP), the Kent's Cavern (UK) maxilla at ~31 14C kyr BP, the Pestera Muierii (Romania) remains at ~30 14C kyr BP, and the Pestera Cioclovina (Romania) cranium at ~29 14C kyr BP, none of which has a secure and diagnostic archaeological association. Moreover, at least the Oase fossils overlap in time with late Neanderthals from for example, Vindija (Croatia), which is at present dated to ~29 14C kyr BP and Arcy-sur-Cure (France) at ~34 14C kyr BP. The assessment of whether the Mladec fossils are indeed Aurignacian in age, and if so, their chronological position within the Aurignacian time span, has become central to understanding early modern humans in Europe (Wild et al. 2005:332, references omitted).
"Secure and diagnostic archaeological association" is the key element here. There were some modern humans in Europe early, although it is not yet clear that they coexisted in any one place with Neandertals. The Oase remains are sufficient to show the early appearance of the modern human anatomical pattern in Eastern Europe; the appearance in central Europe at Mladec is the subject of the present paper. What there isn't -- as yet -- is any evidence for the idea that modern humans spread new Upper Paleolithic industries into and across Europe.
The directly dated specimens include Mladec 1, 2, 8, 9a, and 25c. Mladec 25c is an ulna, the rest of the specimens were dated from teeth. The dates range from a high of 31,500 (for Mladec 9a) to a low of 26,330 (for Mladec 25c), with most of the specimens between 30,000 and 31,500 radiocarbon years. At this date, the Mladec sample is the oldest modern human sample associated with the later Aurignacian.
There is as yet no diagnostic hominid associated with the earliest Aurignacian. At 31,000 years, Mladec falls nearly 10,000 years after the earliest occurrence of "Aurignacian" assemblages, although what constitutes "Aurignacian" differs a lot between different archaeologists. Since "what is Neandertal" differs a lot between paleoanthropologists, I guess it's only fair.
Svoboda JA, van der Plicht J, and Kuzelka V. 2002. Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic human fossils from Moravia and Bohemia (Czech Republic): some new 14C dates. Antiquity 76:957-962.
Wild EM, Teschler-Nicola M, Kutschera W, Steier P, Trinkaus E, and Wanek W. 2005. Direct dating of Early Upper Paleolithic human remains from Mladec. Nature 435:332-335. Nature online