The Middle Pleistocene is a subdivision of the Pleistocene Epoch, from 781,000 to 126,000 years ago (781–126 ka). It is preceded by the Calabrian stage, beginning with the Brunhes–Matuyama reversal, and succeeded by the Tarantian stage (equivalent ot the Late or Upper Pleistocene), taken as beginning with the last interglacial (MIS 5).
The tripartite subdivision of the Pleistocene into Lower (Early), Middle and Upper (Late) has been in use since the 1930s. It is in use as a provisional or "quasi-formal" designation by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) as of 2018, pending the ratification of the 2017 proposal by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, ICSSQS) of a Chibanian stage.
The Middle Pleistocene contains the transition from the Lower to Middle Paleolithic in palaeoanthropology, i.e. the emergence transition from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens. The oldest known human's DNA dates to the Middle Pleistocene.
Around 2000, the ICS Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy had intended to formally divide the Pleistocene Epoch into three subepochs/subseries: the Early/Lower Pleistocene, the Middle Pleistocene and the Late/Upper Pleistocene. In 2009, however, the ICS's governing body (the IUGS), overruled this approach, preferring instead to divide the Pleistocene Epoch into four ages/stages. Some GSSP candidate sites were selected and informal names based on these locations were proposed. This resulted in the 2009 proposal that the Middle Pleistocene subepoch/subseries should be replaced by the Ionian age/stage, the start/base of which would be defined at a location in Italy.
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The Ionian stage includes all of the European Sicilian Stage and the first part of the Tyrrhenian Stage. Suitable sections for defining the base of the Ionian Stage are located in southern Italy. During Lower and Middle Pleistocene the Adriatic-Ionian margin was characterized by high sedimentation rates, in response to intense differential tectonic subsidence and massive sedimentary yield. Specifically, candidate sections are the “Montalbano Jonico” Section (Bradanic Trough, Basilicata Region) and the “Valle di Manche Nord” Section (San Mauro Marchesato, Crotone Basin, Calabria Region). In the former, a spectacular succession of marls laid in the Apennine foredeep is exposed which, however, are unfortunately unsuitable for magnetostratigraphic analyses. The latter, which is represented by a shallowing-upward succession that developed in an outer-shelf environment, has the bonus of a sharp biomagnetostratigraphic record, which provides tighter age control.
Besides these exposures, a number of Ocean Drilling Program cores drilled either in the Ionian Sea (Site 964) and in the Sicily Channel-Capo Rossello area (Site 963) are available, which correlate well with the on-land sections mentioned above based on a significant number of criteria (magnetostratigraphy, biostratigraphy, sapropel stratigraphy, stable isotopes and tephrochronology). The interval corresponding to the Ionian Stage is especially well represented in Site 963, where no turbidites and/or hiatuses are recognized. Presently, the Montalbano Ionico section is possibly the main candidate for defining the Lower - Middle Pleistocene boundary, when a reliable magnetostratigraphic record is found.
In November 2017, the Chibanian (defined at a site in Chiba Prefecture, Japan) replaced the Ionian as the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy's preferred GSSP proposal for the age/stage that should replace the Middle Pleistocene subepoch/subseries. Until the Chibanian is ratified by the IUGS, the Chibanian will remain an unofficial informal, proposed stratigraphic division and Middle Pleistocene remains the provisional or quasi-formal name used by the IUGS, for example on its International Chronostratigraphic Chart for 2018.
|790–761 ka||MIS 19||Günz (Elbe) glaciation||Peking Man (Homo erectus)|
|761–712 ka||MIS 18|
|712–676 ka||MIS 17|
|676–621 ka||MIS 16|
|621–563 ka||MIS 15||Gunz-Haslach interglacial||Heidelberg Man (Homo heidelbergensis), Bodo cranium|
|563–524 ka||MIS 14|
|524–474 ka||MIS 13||end of Cromerian (Günz-Mindel) interglacial||Boxgrove Man (Homo heidelbergensis)|
|474–424 ka||MIS 12||Anglian Stage in Britain; Haslach glaciation||Tautavel Man (Homo erectus)|
|424–374 ka||MIS 11||Hoxnian (Britain), Yarmouthian (North America)||Swanscombe Man (Homo heidelbergensis)|
|374–337 ka||MIS 10||Mindel glaciation, Elster glaciation, Riss glaciation|
|337–300 ka||MIS 9||Purfleet Interglacial in Britain||Mousterian|
|300–243 ka||MIS 8||Irhoud 1 (Homo sapiens); Middle Paleolithic; Haplogroup A (Y-DNA)|
|243–191 ka||MIS 7||Aveley Interglacial in Britain||Galilee Man (Homo sapiens); Haua Fteah|
|191–130 ka||MIS 6||Illinoian Stage||Herto Man (Homo sapiens); Macro-haplogroup L (mtDNA); Mousterian|
|130–123 ka||MIS 5e||peak of Eemian interglacial sub-stage, or Ipswichian in Britain||Klasies River Caves; Sangoan|