Using volcanic dust for accurate dating

How does microscopic dust tell us about the origins of modern humans in North Africa?

Museum scientists are part of a new project investigating the Response of Humans to Abrupt Environmental Transitions, RESET.

RESET is refining chronologies in the late Pleistocene by using microtephra – microscopic dust dispersed from volcanic eruptions.

Sites cannot always be accurately dated using radiocarbon dating. RESET is using the presence of microtephra from specific eruptions to correlate and cross-check the timing of important events in human history, between 100,000 and12,000 years ago.

The project will also help understanding of the factors behind Neanderthal extinction, and how modern humans in Europe recovered from the peak of the last ice age about 20,000 years ago.

This work is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).