Human Evolution Dating Methods

Here of some of the well-tested methods of dating used in the study of early humans:

Potassium-argon dating, Argon-argon dating, Carbon-14 (or Radiocarbon), and Uranium series: All of these methods measure the amount of radioactive decay of chemical elements; the decay occurs in a consistent manner, like a clock, over long periods of time.

Thermo-Luminescence, Optically Stimulated Luminescence, and Electron Spin Resonance: All of these methods measure the amount of electrons that get absorbed and trapped inside a rock or tooth over time.

Paleomagnetism: This method compares the direction of the magnetic particles in layers of sediment to the known worldwide shifts in Earth’s magnetic field, which have well-established dates using other dating methods.

Biochronology: Since animal species change over time, the fauna can be arranged from younger to older. At some sites, animal fossils can be dated precisely by one of these other methods. For sites that cannot be readily dated, the animal species found there can be compared to well-dated species from other sites. In this way, sites that do not have radioactive or other materials for dating can be given a reliable age estimate.

Molecular clock: This method compares the amount of genetic difference between living organisms and computes an age based on well-tested rates of genetic mutation over time. Since genetic material (like DNA) decays rapidly, the molecular clock method can’t date very old fossils. It’s mainly useful for figuring out how long ago living species or populations shared a common ancestor, based on their DNA.


Years Before Present


Dating Method

 4-7 MillionHumans and Chimps divergeMolecular genetic clock
 By 4 MillionBipedal walking becomes well developedArgon dating
 2.6 MillionOldest stone toolArgon dating, Paleomagnetic dating
 1.8 MillionHomo erectus expands out of AfricaArgon dating, Paleomagnatic dating
 800,00 – 200,000Rapid period of brain expansionArgon and U-series dating, Paleomagnetic dating
 250,000 30,000Neanderthals emerge, then become extinct. Homo Sapiens emerge in Africa, then expands to other continents. Symbolic culture begins to flourishTL, ESR, C-14 dating, Molecular clock
 12,000 – 10,000Origins of agricultureC-14 dating
 4,500Origins of writing, state, societies, civilization: Sumer & EgyptC-14 dating


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