The cause of the great Permian-Triassic (P-T) boundary mass extinctions remains unknown. A crucial step in identifying the cause involves a precise timing of the mass extinction interval (MEI) in order to reconstruct the pattern of biotic evolution and the chronologic record of potential triggers. Here we present an estimate of the P-T boundary MEI duration based on astronomical tuning of multiple cyclic sedimentary records. Magnetic susceptibility data from Shangsi, southern China, provide evidence for strong 405 k.y. orbital eccentricity forcing throughout the P-T boundary interval. Radioisotope dating combined with 405 k.y. tuning provides an absolute time scale through the P-T boundary interval at unprecedented high resolution. An estimated ∼700 k.y. duration for the MEI at Shangsi is supported by eccentricity tuned estimates of four other sections in China and Austria. In addition, at Shangsi, the onset of mass extinction occurred shortly following a coincidence of minima in the observed ∼1.5 m.y., 405 k.y., and ∼100 k.y. cycles. A change in the magnetic susceptibility response to astronomical forcing occurred just prior to the onset of extinction, with reduced 100-k.y.-scale cyclicity continuing into the Early Triassic for more than 2 m.y.

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