Early humans arrived in Southeast Asia later than previously believed

January 09, 2020

New dates from the World Heritage archeological site at Sangiran on the island of Java suggest that that the first appearance of Homo erectus occurred more recently than previously thought, researchers report. The new findings place the arrival of the first hominins in Sangiran between 1.3-1.5 million years ago (Ma), suggesting that early humans migrated from Asia to Southeast Asia and Java nearly 300,000 years later than previously believed. The fossil-rich Sangiran dome in Java contains the oldest human fossils in Southeast Asia and is widely regarded as one of the most important sites in understanding the evolution of our early ancestors and their slow march across the globe. To date, more than 100 specimens from at least three different hominid species have been recovered from Sangrian sediments. However, despite decades of research, the site's chronology remains uncertain and controversial, particularly the timing of H. erectus' first appearance in the region, and the current widely accepted dates are difficult to reconcile with other early sites in Asia. An accurate understanding of the Sangiran chronology is crucial for understanding the earliest human migrations and settlements in Asia. To resolve this debate, Shuji Matsu'ura and colleagues used a combination of fission-track and Uranium/Lead (U/Pb) dating to determine the age of volcanic zircons found above, below and within the hominin-bearing layers of the Sangiran fossil deposit. While previous estimates have estimated hominin arrival as early as 1.7 Ma, Matsu'ura et al.'s findings suggest a much younger date; likely by 1.3 Ma, however no earlier than 1.5 Ma. In a related Perspective, Boris Brasseur discusses the study's findings in more detail.

American Association for the Advancement of Science
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