Single-grain OSL dating at La Grotte des Contrebandiers ('Smugglers' Cave'), Morocco: improved age constraints for the Middle Paleolithic levels
Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) measurements of individual quartz grains are reported for Middle Paleolithic (MP) or Middle Stone Age (MSA) deposits in La Grotte des Contrebandiers, Morocco. Single-grain measurements enable rejection of grains that may lead to under- or over-estimation of age due to malign luminescence properties or remobilisation of grains after burial. We identified the former using a range of experimental procedures and objective rejection criteria. Three post-depositional factors influenced the distribution pattern of equivalent dose (De) values for the remaining single grains: the disintegration of roof spall liberating unbleached, older grains into otherwise well-bleached sediments; the intrusion of a small number of younger grains from the overlying Upper Paleolithic deposits; and small-scale differences in the beta dose received by individual grains. Roof spall contamination was a significant problem, so we characterised the OSL signals and obtained De values for the calcareous sandstone in which the cave is formed, which allowed bedrock-derived grains in the MP/MSA deposits to be identified and rejected prior to age determination. We collected 31 samples from the MP/MSA deposits, and were able to calculate ages for 30 of them. These ages suggest that MP/MSA occupation of Contrebandiers was restricted to the interval between about 120 and 90 ka ago (Marine Isotope Stages 5d to 5b). Weighted mean OSL ages were obtained for samples associated with archaeologically sterile deposits at the base of the excavations (126 + 9 ka), followed by two phases of the Moroccan Mousterian (122 + 5 and 115 + 3 ka), interspersed with archaeologically sterile deposits (112 + 4 ka). The base and top of the Aterian were dated to 107 + 4 and 96 + 4 ka, respectively. Based on the grand weighted mean ages of 116 + 3 and 103 + 3 ka for the Moroccan Mousterian and Aterian at Contrebandiers, we suggest that these two industries may be separated by an occupation hiatus of up to 13 + 3 ka at this site. Our single-grain OSL chronology confirms previous age estimates obtained for Contrebandiers and other sites in the vicinity, but are generally more precise and stratigraphically more coherent, due to the inherent advantages of measuring individual quartz grains and rejecting contaminant and other unsuitable grains before age determination. C 2011 Elsevier Ltd.