Before Farming

Chronology of the site of Grotte du Renne, Arcy-sur-Cure, France

implications for radiocarbon dating

Before Farming (2011), 2011, (3), 1–14.


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This reply addresses the criticisms levelled by Higham et al (Before Farming 2011/2 article 1) against Caron et al (2011; PLoS ONE 6(6):e21545). We first emphasise the fact that Higham et al dispute neither the spatial evidence that Caron et al brought to bear on the archaeology of the Grotte du Renne nor the validity of the associated simulation study. As the level of disturbance diagnosed by Higham et al is inconsistent with the level of integrity demonstrated by Caron et al, the stratigraphic outliers in Higham et al's results can only represent dating error or localised disturbance with no impact on the general pattern of association between Neanderthals and symbolic artefacts in the Châtelperronian. Secondly, we elaborate on Caron et al's suggestions concerning contamination as a potential cause for the younger than expected results. Finally, we discuss the issues of epistemology that are raised by the notion that radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling can be used as a completely independent test of stratigraphic integrity, and especially so when samples are problematic. Additional evidence of inconsistencies and use of double standards in Higham et al's implementation of the Bayesian approach, namely by comparison with the dating of Kent's Cavern, is also provided. We conclude that our differences do not lie in the appropriateness of the Bayesian approach per se but rather in the assumptions guiding the choice of priors and the interpretation of posteriors. These are archaeological problems, not dating or statistical ones.

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Author details

Zilhão, João

d'Errico, Francesco

Julien, Michèle

David, Francine