Integrative geochronology calibrates the Middle and Late Stone Ages of Ethiopia’s Afar Rift

Elizabeth M. Niespolo, Giday WoldeGabriel, William K. Hart, Paul R. Renne, Warren D. Sharp, M. Steven Shackley, Stanley H. Ambrose, Berhane Asfaw, Yonas Beyene, Marianne F. Brasil, Joshua P. Carlson, Yonatan Sahle, Tim D. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Halibee member of the Upper Dawaitoli Formation of Ethiopia’s Middle Awash study area features a wealth of Middle and Later Stone Age (MSA and LSA) paleoanthropological resources in a succession of Pleistocene sediments. We introduce these artifacts and fossils, and determine their chronostratigraphic placement via a combination of established radioisotopic methods and a recently developed dating method applied to ostrich eggshell (OES). We apply the recently developed 230Th/U burial dating of OES to bridge the temporal gap between radiocarbon (14C) and 40Ar/39Ar ages for the MSA and provide 14C ages to constrain the younger LSA archaeology and fauna to ∼24 to 21.4 ka. Paired 14C and 230Th/U burial ages of OES agree at ∼31 ka for an older LSA locality, validating the newer method, and in turn supporting its application to stratigraphically underlying MSA occurrences previously constrained only by a maximum 40Ar/39Ar age. Associated fauna, flora, and Homo sapiens fossils are thereby now fixed between 106 ± 20 ka and 96.4 ± 1.6 ka (all errors 2σ). Additional 40Ar/39 results on an underlying tuff refine its age to 158.1 ± 11.0 ka, providing a more precise minimum age for MSA lithic artifacts, fauna, and H. sapiens fossils recovered ∼9 m below it. These results demonstrate how chronological control can be obtained in tectonically active and stratigraphically complex settings to precisely calibrate crucial evidence of technological, environmental, and evolutionary changes during the African Middle and Late Pleistocene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2116329118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 14 2021


  • Ethiopia
  • Geochronology
  • Late stone age
  • Middle awash
  • Middle stone age

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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