In a new study published in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers led by the University of Iowa; Macquarie University; and the Institute of Technology Bandung, Indonesia, dates the last existence of Homo erectus at Ngandong between 108,000 and 117,000 years ago.
The researchers time-stamped the site by dating animal fossils from the same bonebed where 12 Homo erectus skull caps and two tibia had been found, and then dated the surrounding land forms—mostly terraces below and above Ngandong—to establish an accurate record for the primeval humans' possible last stand on Earth.
"This site is the last known appearance of Homo erectus found anywhere in the world," says Russell Ciochon, professor in the Department of Anthropology at Iowa and co-corresponding author on the study. "We can't say we dated the extinction, but we dated the last occurrence of it. We have no evidence Homo erectus lived later than that anywhere else."
Rizal, Y., Westaway, K.E., Zaim, Y. et al. Last appearance of Homo erectus at Ngandong, Java, 117,000–108,000 years ago. Nature (2019)
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1863-2 , https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1863-2
Homo erectus is the founding early hominin species of Island Southeast Asia, and reached Java (Indonesia) more than 1.5 million years ago. Twelve H. erectus calvaria (skull caps) and two tibiae (lower leg bones) were discovered from a bone bed located about 20 m above the Solo River at Ngandong (Central Java) between 1931 and 1933, and are of the youngest, most-advanced form of H. erectus. Despite the importance of the Ngandong fossils, the relationship between the fossils, terrace fill and ages have been heavily debated. Here, to resolve the age of the Ngandong evidence, we use Bayesian modelling of 52 radiometric age estimates to establish—to our knowledge—the first robust chronology at regional, valley and local scales. We used uranium-series dating of speleothems to constrain regional landscape evolution; luminescence, 40argon/39argon (40Ar/39Ar) and uranium-series dating to constrain the sequence of terrace evolution; and applied uranium-series and uranium series–electron-spin resonance (US–ESR) dating to non-human fossils to directly date our re-excavation of Ngandong. We show that at least by 500 thousand years ago (ka) the Solo River was diverted into the Kendeng Hills, and that it formed the Solo terrace sequence between 316 and 31 ka and the Ngandong terrace between about 140 and 92 ka. Non-human fossils recovered during the re-excavation of Ngandong date to between 109 and 106 ka (uranium-series minimum) and 134 and 118 ka (US–ESR), with modelled ages of 117 to 108 thousand years (kyr) for the H. erectusbone bed, which accumulated during flood conditions. These results negate the extreme ages that have been proposed for the site and solidify Ngandong as the last known occurrence of this long-lived species.