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Work Package 10

Climate change & punctuated presence

Climatic fluctuations in the past impacted the presence and cultural development of early modern humans in Europe1,2. Temporal and spatial shifts in the growing season affected prey animal migration patterns, which led to the establishment and abandonment of settlements in certain areas3, resulting in the expansion or breakdown of regional populations (Fig. 1). As the climate further deteriorated towards the Last Glacial Maximum, communication networks broke down, leading to a mosaic of human presence, well-documented in the coexistence of certain technologies and artefact morphologies4.

Figure 1: Potential routes for the dispersal of anatomically modern humans during the Aurignacian (ca. 43 – 32 ka BP) as derived from the HEP model. Shown are the locations of archaeological excavations sites, migratory paths and the borders of human existence during two phases: Aur-P1 (43–38 ka BP) and Aur-P2 (38–32 ka BP)².

In this project, we aim to apply the human existence potential (HEP)5 at a high temporal resolution to model the paleo-vegetation and net primary production6, which allows testing whether grazing herbivores follow the green wave7 of vegetation expansion. In conjunction with archeological data, we can then evaluate whether the migratory behavior of hunter-gatherers is linked to the propagation of the green wave, and thus potential prey animals, and explore the links between the establishment and abandonment of settlements with regard to abrupt climate change.

In order to refine the HEP model, we aim for a validation and comparison with paleoclimate proxy data. This requires a wide array of proxy data at a high temporal and geospatial resolution, including but not limited to pollen data from lakes, bogs, and marine sediments as well as oxygen isotope data from speleothems and ice cores. These data need to be interpreted against the backdrop of Last Glacial climate dynamics, sea level, ice-sheet extent and permafrost distribution and put into an archaeological context, utilizing evidence for settlements from the Upper Paleolithic in Europe, artefact morphologies and data on migratory animals.

The combined approach of climate model data and paleoclimate proxy data will yield substantial information on population dynamics, cultural change, demographic development and communication networks in response to abrupt climate change during the Last Glacial Period. This research is critical for understanding the relationship between climate change and human migration patterns spanning from the first arrival of anatomically modern humans in Europe until after the Last Glacial Maximum (ca. 45–15 ka BP).

Related Publications

  1. Mellars, P. Neanderthals and the modern human colonization of Europe. Nature 432, 461–465 (2004).
  2. Shao, Y. et al. Human-existence probability of the Aurignacian techno-complex under extreme climate conditions. Quat. Sci. Rev. 263, 106995 (2021).
  3. Maier, A. et al. Demographic estimates of hunter–gatherers during the Last Glacial Maximum in Europe against the background of palaeoenvironmental data. Quat. Int. 425, 49–61 (2016).
  4. Maier, A. et al. Cultural evolution and environmental change in Central Europe between 40 and 15 ka. Quat. Int. 581–582, 225–240 (2021).
  5. Klein, K. et al. Human existence potential in Europe during the Last Glacial Maximum. Quat. Int. 581–582, 7–27 (2021).
  6. Shao, Y., Anhäuser, A., Ludwig, P., Schlüter, P. & Williams, E. Statistical reconstruction of global vegetation for the last glacial maximum. Glob. Planet. Change 168, 67–77 (2018).
  7. Maier, A., Tharandt, L., Linsel, F., Krakov, V. & Ludwig, P. Where the Grass is Greener — Large-Scale Phenological Patterns and Their Explanatory Potential for the Distribution of Paleolithic Hunter-Gatherers in Europe. J. Archaeol. Method Theory (2023).

Researchers and Principal Investigators

Kern, Oliver

Researcher WP10

Vercauteren, Nikki

Principal Investigator WP10