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Age of Zhoukoudian Homo erectus determined with 26Al/10Be burial dating


The age of Zhoukoudian Homo erectus, commonly known as ‘Peking Man’, has long been pursued, but has remained problematic owing to the lack of suitable dating methods1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Here we report cosmogenic 26Al/10Be burial dating of quartz sediments and artefacts from the lower strata of Locality 1 in the southwestern suburb of Beijing, China, where early representatives of Zhoukoudian Homo erectus were discovered. This study marks the first radioisotopic dating of any early hominin site in China beyond the range of mass spectrometric U-series dating. The weighted mean of six meaningful age measurements, 0.77 ± 0.08 million years (Myr, mean ± s.e.m.), provides the best age estimate for lower cultural layers 7–10. Together with previously reported U-series dating of speleothem calcite3 and palaeomagnetic stratigraphy4, as well as sedimentological considerations8,9, these layers may be further correlated to S6–S7 in Chinese loess stratigraphy or marine isotope stages (MIS) 17–19, in the range of 0.68 to 0.78 Myr ago. These ages are substantially older than previously supposed and may imply early hominin’s presence at the site in northern China through a relatively mild glacial period corresponding to MIS 18.

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Figure 1: Correlation of Zhoukoudian Locality 1 with loess stratigraphy and marine isotope record from Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) core 677 (ref. 21).

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This project was jointly supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and Wenner-Gren Foundation. Accelerator mass spectrometer 26Al and 10Be measurements were supported by an NSF facility grant to PRIME Lab. We thank Zhoukoudian Site Museum for assistance in sample collection, L. Zhou, T.-L. Ku and C. Norton for discussions, and S. Zhang and the first author’s graduate students Q. Shao, H. Wang and L. Zhang for assistance in sample collection and pre-treatment.

Author Contributions G.S. and D.E.G. contributed equally to conceiving the project, organizing fieldwork, interpreting data and preparing the paper. X.G. provided access to the site and quartzite artefacts. Chemistry was performed by B.G. and D.E.G.

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Correspondence to Guanjun Shen or Darryl E. Granger.

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Shen, G., Gao, X., Gao, B. et al. Age of Zhoukoudian Homo erectus determined with 26Al/10Be burial dating. Nature 458, 198–200 (2009).

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