Acta Anthropologica Sinica ›› 2022, Vol. 41 ›› Issue (04): 712-730.doi: 10.16359/j.1000-3193/AAS.2022.0032

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Reliability and upper age limit of luminescence dating for the Paleolithic and paleoanthropological sites

ZHANG Jiafu()   

  1. College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871
  • Received:2022-04-15 Revised:2022-05-22 Online:2022-08-12 Published:2022-08-10


The development of the luminescence dating technique has made it one of the important dating tools for c onstructing the chronological framework of Paleolithic and palaeoanthropological sites, especially those related to modern humans. It has provided the earliest evidence for the appearance of modern humans in Africa, Asia, and Australia. Therefore, this dating method has attracted extensive attention from Paleolithic archaeologists and paleoanthropologists, especially on the reliability and upper age limit for this dating technique. Luminescence dating materials are ubiquitous quartz or potassium feldspar grains within archaeological deposits, which makes it to date any archaeological sites. In this paper, the basic principle of luminescence dating is briefly introduced, and its reliability and upper age limit, as well as their influencing factors, are reviewed. Literature data show that the precision (e.g., the relative standard error) of luminescence age is mainly related to the physical properties of dated samples and dose rates. The relative standard error(σ) of luminescence age is generally 5%-10%, but it could be <5% under some ideal conditions and sometimes >10% for some samples. A large number of studies have shown that luminescence ages are consistent with independent ages obtained from other dating methods, indicating that this technique is reliable and can be used to build the robust chronology of Paleolithic sites. The upper age limit of luminescence dating is determined by the luminescence properties of dated samples and environmental dose rates. At some sites, reliable luminescence ages up to 1 Ma have been obtained. The upper dating limit of 500 ka is feasible for sediment samples from the majority of Paleolithic sites, and this age range covers the entire period of modern humans. It should be noted that the luminescence properties of sediment samples vary widely from location to location, from sample to sample, and even from grain to grain. The most important of these properties include the stability of luminescence signals and the shape of the dose-response (growth) curve, which are demonstrated by the lifetime of luminescence signals and characteristic dose (D0). The difference in luminescence properties between samples or grains results in different upper dating limits for different samples and even different grains. For the same sample, the upper luminescence age limit of quartz is generally lower than that of potassium feldspar. For the same mineral, different luminescence signals and procedures used to determine equivalent doses may result in different upper limits. Therefore, the upper age limit of luminescence dating is a relatively complicated issue, which depends on the sample’s location, luminescence behaviors, environmental dose rate, and analytical methods.

Key words: Paleolithic site, luminescence dating, reliability of luminescence ages, upper age limit of luminescence dating

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