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Homo erectus, the ancient relative of modern humans, was around longer than researchers thought, with new evidence showing they survived until about 100,000 years ago.
Prior to the work of an international team of researchers, Homo erectus were thought to have vanished about 400,000 years ago. The sole exception was at Ngandong on the island of Java in Indonesia. But scientists could come up with a precise time period for the site where remains were found.
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Researchers relied on animal fossils
That was until the team of researchers led by the University of Iowa; Macquarie University; and the Institute of Technology Bandung, Indonesia were able to date the last existing Homo erectus in Ngandong to between 108,000 and 117,000 years ago. They did that by dating animal fossils from the same bonebed where the skull caps of 12 Homo erectus were found. They also dated the surrounding landforms to establish an accurate record.
“This site is the last known appearance of Homo erectus found anywhere in the world,” said Russell Ciochon, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Iowa and co-corresponding author on the study in a press release announcing the results of the work. “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.”
Homo erectus on the move
Earlier research by Ciochon and other scientists had revealed that Homo erectus was a traveling bunch, moving across the Indonesian archipelago arriving on Java 1.6 million years ago. The environment at the time was mostly grassland, there was an abundance of plants and animals and the ancient humans were able to thrive. But about 130,000 years ago the environment changed leading to their demise.
“There was a change in climate,” Ciochon said in the release. “We know the fauna changed from open country, grassland, to a tropical rainforest (extending southward from today’s Malaysia). Those were not the plants and animals that Homo erectus was used to, and the species just could not adapt.”
The work was published in journal Nature.