Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Archaeologists have overturned theories that climate change caused by a nearby super volcano eruption killed early European settlers.
First Europeans survived climate change following ‘super-eruption’ by working together, say archaeologists
Experts suggest we can learn from our prehistoric ancestors when tackling changing climate today
Monday 16 April 2018 14:31 BST
According to the archaeologists working at the site, humans today can take lessons from our distant ancestors in contemporary approaches to tackling climate change.
“Liguria is where some of the first Homo sapiens, more or less our direct ancestors, lived in Europe,” said Professor Julien Riel-Salvatore, an archaeologist at the University of Montreal who co-authored the study with his Italian colleague, Dr Fabio Negrino.
“They came after the Neanderthals, and unlike them, when they were faced with sudden changes in their climate they didn’t go locally extinct or abandon the region – they adapted.”
Such was the scale of the Phlegraean Fields eruption that archaeologists have suggested it played a significant role in the replacement of Neanderthals with modern humans in Europe.
As for why our ancestors were able to adapt while their Neanderthal cousins could not, Professor Riel-Salvatore said his excavations of the Liguria site offered some clues.
“It used to be thought that this wiped out most of the early Homo sapiens in Europe, but we’ve been able to show that some were able to deal with the situation just fine,” he said.
“They survived by dealing with the uncertainty of sudden change.”
The abstract of the study;
Human adaptations to climatic change in Liguria across the Middle–Upper Paleolithic transition
Julien Riel‐Salvatore, Fabio Negrino
First published: 3 April 2018
There has been much focus on the disruptive effects of dramatic climatic shifts on Paleolithic population dynamics, but the topic of cultural continuity across such events has been less intensely investigated, despite its importance to the way archeologists think about the ways humans have interacted with their environment in the past. This paper presents data from western Liguria (Italy) and especially the site of Riparo Bombrini, to investigate the nature of the apparent resilience of the Proto‐Aurignacian technocomplex in the face of the Phlegrean Fields super‐eruption ca. 40 000 cal a BP and the general climatic instability during Marine Isotope Stage 3. While the Proto‐Aurignacian shows some internal variability that could reflect an adaptation to changing environmental conditions, overall it remains very stable in terms of its techno‐typology and social geography across these events. Additionally, the radiocarbon chronology for the site clearly shows that the Proto‐Aurignacian outlasts both the super‐eruption and Heinrich Event 4 as a whole, by as much as 2000 years. Comparisons with the regional Mousterian record indicate that the Proto‐Aurignacian marks the advent of a new way for humans to respond to climatic change, which opens up new avenues to reflect on the disappearance of the Mousterian.
This finding echoes similar research earlier this year from England, which showed that early Britons prospered despite abrupt thousand year climate shifts of 2-6C which struck with full force in as little as a couple of months.
The evidence is that humans have nothing to fear from mild climate shifts which occur over a timescale of centuries. Our ancestors survived and prospered despite experiencing severe climate shifts far worse than any of us will ever face.