Dating Nanjing Man

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Science  09 Feb 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5506, pp. 947
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5506.947B

Recently discovered remains of Homo erectus at sites in China are providing an opportunity to assess the early migration of hominids out of Africa and their relation to the later populations of H. sapiens that emerged there about 500,000 years ago. A major difficulty, however, has been obtaining accurate dates for many of the fossils; this has hampered comparisons across sites and confounded the evolutionary history. The ages of the fossils are well beyond the dating range of radiocarbon, and most of the finds have been in caves lacking volcanic horizons (which can be K-Ar dated).

Zhao et al. now have obtained consistent dates for the H. erectus fossils known as Nanjing Man (and evidently related to the famous Peking Man) from Tangshan Cave. They dated the cave deposits directly overlying the fossils using the incorporation of uranium and its decay to thorium in calcite-forming flowstone in the caves. The fossils appear to be older than 580,000 years and probably are about 620,000 years old. These ages, along with those from others sites in China, imply that most of the H. erectus specimens there are older than previously thought and perhaps do not overlap significantly younger H. sapiens.BH

Geology29, 27 (2001).

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