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Qaleh Kurd Cave (Qazvin, Iran): Oldest Evidence of Middle Pleistocene Hominin Occupations and a Human Deciduous Tooth in the Iranian Central Plateau

  • Vahdati Nasab, Hamed
  • Berillon, Gilles
  • Hashemi, Seyyed Milad
  • Bahain, Jean-Jacques
  • Sévêque, Noémie
  • Jayez, Mozhgan
  • Bonilauri, Stéphanie
  • Jamet, Guillaume
  • Kharazian, Mohammad Akhavan
  • Nateghi, Asghar
  • Abdollahi, Alieh
  • Antoine, Pierre
  • Beheshti, Iraj
  • Boulbes, Nicolas
  • Chapon-Sao, Cécile
  • Gallet, Xavier
  • Falguères, Christophe
  • Garbé, Lisa
  • Kazzazi, Mandan
  • Mousavi, Ahmad Zavar
  • And 5 more
Publication Date
May 23, 2024
DOI: 10.1007/s41982-024-00180-4
OAI: oai:HAL:mnhn-04584258v1
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The Iranian Central Plateau (ICP) with the Alborz and the Zagros Mountains is located at the crossroads between the Levant and the Caucasus to the west and Central Asia and East Asia to the east. These two regions yielded key paleoanthropological and archaeological sites from the Middle Pleistocene period. These discoveries highlight a large human biological and cultural diversity in this area during the Middle Pleistocene and raise questions about the interactions these humans had. Yet, despite decades of field research, no Middle Pleistocene assemblage in a clear chronological and stratigraphic context was known in the ICP, the Zagros, and the Alborz Mountains that could contribute to this debate; so far, the earliest of the area is dated of 80 ka. The Joint Iranian and French Paleoanthropological Project reinvestigated the cave of Qaleh Kurd (Qazvin). The Qaleh Kurd cave is located at 2137 m asl at the very western limit of the ICP, at its boundary with the Zagros Mountains. Here, we report on the discovery of in situ Middle Pleistocene archaeological assemblages, including a human deciduous first upper molar associated with a rich lithic and faunal material, and a first description of the chrono-stratigraphic framework of the deposits. The excavation and the archaeological and geoarchaeological analyses show that humans occupied the site during the Middle Pleistocene, during a period ranging from ca 452 } 32 and 165 } 11 ka. This chronology pushes back the earliest dated evidence of human settlement in the ICP by more than 300 ka. The human deciduous first upper molar comes from the upper part of the Middle Pleistocene sequence. The crown of the tooth is widely impacted by wear and carries that limit taxonomic inferences. The study of the three upper archaeological assemblages shows that the cave was recurrently occupied by humans of early Middle Paleolithic cultures. These assemblages recall some traits of sub-contemporary assemblages known in the Caucasus and the Levant but also the later Middle Paleolithic of the Zagros. The faunal assemblage is mainly composed of horse remains. The remains are very fragmented and show numerous anthropogenic stigmata that indicate significant butchery activities on site. From a large regional and chronological perspective, these findings make Qaleh Kurd Cave a key site for the knowledge of early human settlements and dispersals between the Levant and Asia.

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