New scientific findings suggest that a significant drop in temperatures more than 1.1 million years ago forced early human populations to flee Europe. The abrupt climate shift, characterized by a temperature plunge of over 5 degrees Celsius, is believed to have rendered survival untenable for our early ancestors, who lacked the means to combat such extreme conditions without the benefits of modern heating and warm clothing.
This revelation challenges the previously held consensus that humans had continuously inhabited Europe for 1.5 million years. Researchers unearthed evidence of this dramatic climatic event in ocean sediments off the coast of Lisbon, Portugal. These layers, formed annually, offer a unique record of sea conditions during that epoch, along with valuable insights into the vegetation on land through preserved pollen grains.
Computational simulations utilizing the sediment data were conducted by scientists at the IBS Centre for Climate Physics in Busan, South Korea. The results unveiled a startling picture of plummeting average winter temperatures across multiple European regions, even in the typically milder Mediterranean. This temperature drop, while seemingly modest by today’s standards, held dire consequences for early human survival.
Professor Axel Timmermann, Director of the research group, highlighted the vulnerabilities of our early ancestors in the face of such harsh conditions. Unlike today, when access to heating, clothing, and ample food is commonplace, these early humans lacked the means to combat the extreme cold and aridness that prevailed during that era.
“Early humans were not yet well adapted to cope with such extreme conditions,” Prof Timmermann explained. “There is no direct evidence that they could even control fire at this time. Therefore, the extremely cold and dry conditions over Europe and the corresponding lack of food must have greatly challenged human survival.”
The research underscores the remarkable resilience and adaptability of modern humans, who have harnessed advanced technologies and knowledge to mitigate the effects of harsh environmental changes. The findings also highlight the complex interplay between climate fluctuations and human evolution, shedding light on the challenges that early humans faced as they navigated a rapidly changing world.
As the study refines our understanding of prehistoric populations and their interactions with their environment, it underscores the significance of adapting to changing conditions and the crucial role that technological innovation played in the survival and progression of our species.