The chronostratigraphy of the Haua Fteah cave (Cyrenaica, northeast Libya)
The 1950s excavations by Charles McBurney in the Haua Fteah, a large karstic cave on the coast of northeast Libya, revealed a deep sequence of human occupation. Most subsequent research on North African prehistory refers to his discoveries and interpretations, but the chronology of its archaeological and geological sequences has been based on very early age determinations. This paper reports on the initial results of a comprehensive multi-method dating program undertaken as part of new work at the site, involving radiocarbon dating of charcoal, land snails and marine shell, cryptotephra investigations, optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of sediments, and electron spin resonance (ESR) dating of tooth enamel. The dating samples were collected from the newly exposed and cleaned faces of the upper 7.5 m of the ∼14.0 m-deep McBurney trench, which contain six of the seven major cultural phases that he identified. Despite problems of sediment transport and reworking, using a Bayesian statistical model the new dating program establishes a robust framework for the five major lithostratigraphic units identified in the stratigraphic succession, and for the major cultural units. The age of two anatomically modern human mandibles found by McBurney in Layer XXXIII near the base of his Levalloiso-Mousterian phase can now be estimated to between 73 and 65 ka (thousands of years ago) at the 95.4% confidence level, within Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 4. McBurney's Layer XXV, associated with Upper Palaeolithic Dabban blade industries, has a clear stratigraphic relationship with Campanian Ignimbrite tephra. Microlithic Oranian technologies developed following the climax of the Last Glacial Maximum and the more microlithic Capsian in the Younger Dryas. Neolithic pottery and perhaps domestic livestock were used in the cave from the mid Holocene but there is no certain evidence for plant cultivation until the Graeco-Roman period.
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