The dating of volcanic ash in Sangiran shows that Homo erectus arrived later than thought

The most complete skull of a Javanese erectus has been found to date. This sample (Pithecanthropus VIII (Sangiran 17)) dates from approx. 0.82 million years ago and belongs to the chronologically younger group of Sangiran hominins. Courtesy: Hisao Baba / National Museum of Nature and Science.

A group of researchers from Japan, Indonesia, and Germany found evidence that Homo erectus arrived in Java about 300,000 years later than anticipated. In his article published in the journal The science, the group describes the use of two techniques for dating volcanic ash from which the oldest known fossils were found, and what they found.

Back in 1994, archaeologist Karl Swisher dated the same fossils to about 1.8 million years ago, and this suggested that Homo erectus appeared as a species in Asia, and not in Africa. Since then fossil dates have become controversial in the archaeological community. In this new endeavor, researchers sought to settle the debate by performing two types of dating to show how long the sample volcanic ash has been fixed on the site. In this case, it was the Sangiran Dome – an elevated tectonic dome on the island of Java in Indonesia. At the moment, the site has given more than 100 hominin fossils since he first came under research in 1936.

The team used two techniques: lead uranium dating, which allows you to measure the crystallization age of a sample of volcanic soil and the dating of the division tracks, which measures the characteristics of zircon grains in the volcanic material erupted during the eruption, and thus the age of the volcanic eruption. The team used both methods to test the volcanic material in which the fossils were found. Researchers report that both methods showed an age of 1.3 to 1.5 million years. This reverses Swisher’s estimates by about 300,000. And more importantly, it suggests that Homo erectus first appeared in Africa and migrated to Asia. This is due to the fact that previous studies dated H. erectus fossils in Georgia to 1.8 million years, and in China to 1.6 million years.

The dating of volcanic ash in Sangiran shows that Homo erectus arrived later than thought

Figure showing the location of Sangiran and generalized stratigraphy, as well as indicating the origin of two chronological groups of Sangiran hominins, chronological contradictions for more than two decades and our results of this study. Courtesy: Matsuura et al., Science (2019).

Researchers suggest that since they used two independent dating techniques that were consistent with each other, their results should resolve the dispute about the earliest known time when H. erectus lived in Java, and also decide where H. first appeared. erectus.

The dating of volcanic ash in Sangiran shows that Homo erectus arrived later than thought

Two jaws of a bipedal man, which date from approx. 0.90 and 1.1 million years ago. These specimens (left, Pithecanthropus C (Sangiran 9); right, Pithecanthropus F (Sangiran 22)) belong to the chronologically senior group of Sangiran hominins. It is interesting that, as reported, the mandibles exhibit relatively primitive traits that are morphologically comparable to hundreds of thousands of years ago of an African upright man. Courtesy: Shuji Matsuura / National Museum of Nature and Science.

A new look at the death of the ancient human race more than 100,000 years ago

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The dating of volcanic ash in Sangiran shows that Homo erectus arrived later than anticipated (2020, January 10)
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