Buckland's immediate successors did a little better.
They determined that the Red Lady was in fact a man, and that the ornaments resembled those found at much older sites in continental Europe.
It might even explain why humans survived and Neanderthals did not.
“I admire him,” says Paul Mellars, an archaeologist from the University of Cambridge, UK, and an expert on this period in Europe, for “the sheer doggedness and sense of vision” he has for improving radiocarbon dating of the Palaeolithic.
“We know that it is older than Christendom,” he wrote, “but whether by a couple of years or a couple of centuries or even by more than a millennium, we can do no more than guess.” The fog began to lift in the middle of the twentieth century, when US chemist Willard Libby and his colleagues showed that all formerly living things bear a clock powered by radioactive carbon-14.
“I want to know the truth” is something he says a lot.
Libby earned the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work.
The clock gets less accurate as the samples age, however; cruelly, it begins to fail at one of the most interesting times of human history in Europe.
In the process, Higham is rewriting European history for around 30,000–50,000 years ago — a time referred to as the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition — when the first modern-looking humans arrived from Africa and the last Neanderthals vanished.
Higham thinks that better carbon dating will help to resolve debates about whether the two ever met, swapped ideas or even had sex.