Humans colonised Madagascar later than thought: Study

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 human activity. (Image for representation)

Modern humans may have colonised Madagascar thousands of years later than previously thought, according to a study.

Madagascar's colonisation is key for tracing prehistoric human dispersal across the Indian Ocean, but exactly when human settlement began in the island remains unclear, said researchers from the Australian National University.

Several pieces of evidence, 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), where "present" is defined as AD 1950.

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 human activity.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, revisited these bone collections and excavated three new sites in southwest Madagascar to collect a larger sample of animal bone material.

The researchers recovered 1,787 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 cut marking (and human activity) only appeared after that time point.

Similar results were obtained upon re-examination of bone damage previously interpreted as cutmarks in samples from old collections, said Atholl Anderson from the Australian National University.

The study also confirmed previous evidence of megafaunal extinction starting around 1200 years BP.

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

"Recent estimates indicate human arrival in Madagascar as early as 10,000 years ago," Anderson said.

"Diverse evidence (from bone damage, palaeoecology, genomic and linguistic history, archaeology, introduced biota and seafaring capability) indicate initial human colonisation of Madagascar was later at 1350-1100 BP," said Anderson. PTI SAR SAR

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Humans colonised Madagascar later than thought: Study

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