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No. 13: Winter 1981

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Remarkably Early Dates For Agriculture

B.K. Maloney, of the British Museum, describes his pollen analysis of sediments that have accumulated in the Toba Highlands of North Sumatra, Indonesia. The base of a 9.7-meter core from the Pea Sim-sim Swamp has yielded a radiocarbon date of 18,496 years. Pollen studies of the core indicate a brief decline of forest pollen about 17,800 BP along with increased sedimentation characteristic of cleared land. Taken by themselves, these data would probably be interpreted in terms of natural climate changes. But extremely early dates for human activity exist nearby: 14,000 BP for agriculture in Thailand and 11,000 BP for forest clearance on Taiwan. It is possible, therefore, that men were clearing land for planting in North Sumatra almost 18,000 years ago.

(Maloney, B.K.; "Pollen Analytical Evidence for Early Forest Clearance in North Sumatra," Nature, 287:324, 1980.)

Comment. Some archeologists hotly disoute the early dates mentioned above. For more, see our Handbook: Ancient Man. Ordering information for this volume may be found here.

From Science Frontiers #13, Winter 1981. 1981-2000 William R. Corliss