IPERION HSIntegrating Platforms for the European Research Infrastructure ON Heritage Science

CTinHS Lecture #05: Timing the spread of creative innovations by Homo sapiens and Neanderthals using the radiocarbon dating method 

The CTinHS lectures are part of HS Academy: a collaborative initiative between IPERION HS (www.iperionhs.eu) and E-RIHS (www.e-rihs.eu). The two European projects integrate facilities of recognized excellence in Heritage Science, offering access to a wide range of high-level scientific instruments, methodologies, data, tools and training opportunities for advancing knowledge and innovation in the field.

Lecture #05 of the “Current Topics in Heritage Science” series will be delivered by Prof. Sahra Talamo on Thursday, January 19th, at 3 pm (Rome time).


It may be a cliché to say that Art is a form of symbolic behaviour and modern cognition as old as humankind itself. However, in Europe, the so far evidence showed that artistic expression, like any kind of personal ornaments, is associated with the emergence of cultural innovations introduced by Homo sapiens in the Initial Upper Palaeolithic, as demonstrated by the earliest unsophisticated manipulation of animal teeth in Bulgaria, around 46,000 years BP. Similar behaviour is documented in Southwestern France within the Neanderthal groups.
On the other hand, the elaborate and highly standardized manufacturing processes are recognized in the Early Aurignacian culture, done by Homo sapiens, prior to 40,000 years BP. The cultural innovation and the production of highly symbolic values from complex technological processes, like figurines or punctate decoration objects, started to be recognised across Europe.
However, the question around the beginning of the artistic explosion and the timing of these behavioural innovations is still challenging, especially if precious and unique objects will be damaged.
In this lecture, I will talk about how we can overcome the fire of destroying precious objects and directly date them using the updated radiocarbon pretreatment, the latest AMS instrumental advances, and the new IntCal20 calibration curve. Only with these new developments we can increase precision in establishing the true age of the item itself and fill the gap in the most intriguing puzzle about symbolic behaviour and modern cognition in Human Evolution.

January 19th, 2022 at 3 pm (Rome time zone)

You will learn

  • the importance of directly dating mobiliary art to solve the intriguing puzzle of the emergence of symbolic behaviour and modern cognition in human evolution;
  • the radiocarbon method and the new advances in using it;
  • NIR spectroscopy pre-screening to non-destructively quantify collagen preservation;
  • the latest AMS advancement in producing more precise error ranges;
  • the new RESOLUTION project, which is building highly precise and accurate segments for the calibration of radiocarbon (14C) ages, from 15,000 to 55,000 years BP (Before Present). The new segments are improving the resolution by more than one order of magnitude and the precision by a factor of three to resolve the chronology of sequences involving only a few human generations.

Key topics we’ll cover

  • jewellery in Palaeolithic time;
  • radiocarbon;
  • the emergence of cultural innovations introduced by Homo sapiens;
  • symbolic behaviour in Neanderthals group.

45 minutes (30 minutes + 15 minutes Q&A)


Sahra Talamo is a Full Professor in Chemistry, with special interest in studying human evolutionary events in combination with radiocarbon dating. During her period at the MPI-EVA, she has developed outstanding expertise in human evolution research, in particular regarding high-resolution chronologies in the study of human evolution and in geosciences in glacial times, with strong competence in interdisciplinary collaboration. In 2018 she won an ERC starting grant (n. 803147 – RESOLUTION), which started on June 1, 2019. In the RESOLUTION project, she will develop high-resolution radiocarbon calibration data sets, using fossil trees to gain resolution, precision, and confidence intervals to resolve key periods in European prehistory. The results of this project are of pivotal importance to precisely establish the time of the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe, the way of their diffusion, and their interactions with Neanderthals in terms of co-existence, co-habitation, and competition.

Since 2020 Prof. Talamo is the director of the radiocarbon laboratory BRAVHO (Bologna Radiocarbon laboratory devoted to Human Evolution).

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Registration form for HS Academy Lecture #05