A chronology for late prehistoric Madagascar

David A. Burney, Lida Pigott Burney, Laurie R. Godfrey, William L. Jungers, Steven M. Goodman, Henry T. Wright, A. J.Timothy Jull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

306 Scopus citations


A database has been assembled with 278 age determinations for Madagascar. Materials 14C dated include pretreated sediments and plant macrofossils from cores and excavations throughout the island, and bones, teeth, or eggshells of most of the extinct megafaunal taxa, including the giant lemurs, hippopotami, and ratites. Additional measurements come from uranium-series dates on speleothems and thermoluminescence dating of pottery. Changes documented include late Pleistocene climatic events and, in the late Holocene, the apparently human-caused transformation of the environment. Multiple lines of evidence point to the earliest human presence at ca. 2300 14C yr BP (350 cal yr BC). A decline in megafauna, inferred from a drastic decrease in spores of the coprophilous fungus Sporormiella spp. in sediments at 1720 ± 40 14C yr BP (230-410 cal yr AD), is followed by large increases in charcoal particles in sediment cores, beginning in the SW part of the island, and spreading to other coasts and the interior over the next millennium. The record of human occupation is initially sparse, but shows large human populations throughout the island by the beginning of the Second Millennium AD. Dating of the "subfossil" megafauna, including pygmy hippos, elephant birds, giant tortoises, and large lemurs, demonstrates that most if not all the extinct taxa were still present on the island when humans arrived. Many taxa overlapped chronologically with humans for a millennium or more. The extinct lemurs Hadropithecus stenognathus, Pachylemur insignis, Mesopropithecus pithecoides, and Daubentonia robusta, and the elephant birds Aepyornis spp. and Mullerornis spp., were still present near the end of the First Millennium AD. Palaeopropithecus ingens, Megaladapis edwardsi, and Archaeolemur sp. (cf. edwardsi ) may have survived until the middle of the Second Millennium A.D. One specimen of Hippopotamus of unknown provenance dates to the period of European colonization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-63
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of human evolution
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2004


  • C
  • Dating
  • Extinction
  • Human settlement
  • Lemur
  • Madagascar
  • Megafauna
  • Paleoecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology


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