Direct dating of shell beads from Lene Hara Cave, East Timor

Sue O'Connor, Matthew Spriggs, Peter Veth


We report two direct dates on shell beads from a recent excavation in Lene Hara Cave, East Timor. The significance of these dates lies in the fact that while the shell artefacts were recovered from levels dated to the Pleistocene, they themselves date to approximately 3500 and 4500 BP respectively. The beads have evidently been vertically displaced downward or, alternatively, were part of the contents of a pit or other intrusive feature which was not discernable from visual inspection of the stratigraphy during excavation. We suggest that this is a common problem and has led to dubious claims for pottery in levels dated to 6000 BP or earlier in New Guinea. Direct dating of inclusions in pottery and organic artefacts such as shell beads should be routinely carried out before such claims are published.

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