Humans may have colonized Madagascar later than previously thought

October 10, 2018, Public Library of Science
Taolambiby cut-marked bone dated to 1200 years ago. Credit: Anderson et al., 2018

New archaeological evidence from southwest Madagascar reveals that modern humans colonized the island thousands of years later than previously thought, according to a study published October 10, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Atholl Anderson from the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, and colleagues.

Madagascar's colonization is key for tracing prehistoric human dispersal across the Indian Ocean, but exactly when human settlement began in the island remains unclear. Several pieces of , including archaeological findings such as chert tools and charcoal, provide a direct indication of human occupation in Madagascar from about 1500 years before present (BP). However, recent studies have suggested that the island's early settlers made first landfall as early as 5000 years BP, based on indirect evidence from animal bones with damage (cutmarks) presumably resulting from . Anderson and colleagues revisited these collections and excavated three new sites in southwest Madagascar to collect a larger sample of animal bone material.

They recovered 1787 bones belonging to extinct megafauna, such as hippos, crocodiles, giant lemurs, giant tortoise and elephant birds, dated between 1900 BP and 1100 years BP. Microscopic analyses revealed that potential cutmarks in bones dated before 1200 years BP were in fact animal biting and gnawing marks, root etching, or chop marks from the excavation, suggesting that cutmarking (and human activity) only appeared after that time point. Similar results were obtained upon re-examination of previously interpreted as cutmarks in samples from old collections. The study also confirmed previous evidence of megafaunal extinction starting around 1200 years BP.

These findings add to the evidence showing that prehistoric human colonization of Madagascar began between 1350 and 1100 years BP, and suggest that hunting gradually led to the extinction of the island's megafauna.

The authors add: "Recent estimates indicate human arrival in Madagascar as early as ~10,000 years ago. Diverse evidence (from bone damage, palaeoecology, genomic and linguistic history, archaeology, introduced biota and seafaring capability) indicate initial human colonization of Madagascar was later at 1350-1100 y B.P. Results have implications for decline and extinction of megafauna, a proposed early African hunter-gatherer phase, and transoceanic voyaging from Southeast Asia."

Explore further: Ancient bird bones redate human activity in Madagascar by 6,000 years

More information: Anderson A, Clark G, Haberle S, Higham T, Nowak-Kemp M, Prendergast A, et al. (2018) New evidence of megafaunal bone damage indicates late colonization of Madagascar. PLoS ONE 13(10): e0204368. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0204368

Related Stories

Team names world's largest ever bird—Vorombe titan

September 25, 2018

After decades of conflicting evidence and numerous publications, scientists at international conservation charity ZSL's (Zoological Society of London) Institute of Zoology, have finally put the 'world's largest bird' debate ...

Giant, recently extinct seabird also inhabited Japan

July 11, 2018

Scientists report that a large, extinct seabird called the spectacled cormorant, Phalacrocorax perspicillatus—originally thought to be restricted to Bering Island, far to the north—also resided in Japan nearly 120,000 ...

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.