Earliest modern humans in southern Africa dated by isoleucine epimerization in ostrich eggshell

G. H. Miller, P. B. Beaumont, H. J. Deacon, A. S. Brooks, P. E. Hare, A. J.T. Jull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


The oldest anatomically modern human remains are beyond the range of radiocarbon dating, and associated deposits lack material suitable for most other dating methods. Consequently, age estimates for early human skeletal material and correlative stratigraphic horizons in southern Africa are frequently based on paleoclimatic correlations to the deep-sea record and extrapolated sedimentation rates, both of which incorporate a number of untested assumptions. Here we focus on one substage of the Middle Stone Age of southern Africa, the Howiesons Poort industry, a distinctive culture-stratigraphic marker in sequences south of the Zambezi. Anatomically modern human skeletal material has been found associated with, or even older than the Howiesons Poort layer in stratified deposits at Border Cave and Klasies River main site. We have dated or bracketed the Howiesons Poort horizon at Border Cave, Boomplaas Cave and Apollo 11 Cave, three stratified cave sites in southern Africa, based on the extent of isoleucine epimerization in associated ostrich eggshells. We conclude that the Howiesons Poort lithic industry is bracketed by limiting dates of 56 and 80 ka, and is most likely centered on 66 ± 5 ka. Anatomically modern human remains in deeper levels are more than 100 ka old, lending support to the hypothesis of an African origin for Homo sapiens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1537-1548
Number of pages12
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number13
StatePublished - Nov 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology


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