Combining climate and archeological data sheds new light on human origins

04/15/2023 - A study published in Nature by an international team of scientists provides clear evidence for a link between astronomically-driven climate change and human evolution.
Combining climate and archeological data sheds new light on human origins
Preferred habitats of Homo sapiens (purple shading, left), Homo heidelbergensis (red shading, middle), Homo neanderthalensis (blue shading, right). Lighter values indicate higher habitat suitability.

04/13/2022 - A team of experts in climate modeling, anthropology and ecology has determined under which environmental conditions archaic humans likely lived: They combined the most extensive database of well-dated fossil remains and archeological artefacts with an unprecedented new supercomputer model simulating earth’s climate history of the past two million years. PIK researchers contributed the ice sheets and atmospheric CO2 concentration from Potsdam-made simulations.

The impact of climate change on human evolution has long been suspected but has been difficult to demonstrate due to the paucity of climate records near human fossil-bearing sites. To bypass this problem, the team instead investigated what the model climate was like at the times and places humans lived, according to the archeological record. This revealed the preferred environmental conditions of different groups of hominin, or early humans. Triggered by precessional shifts in earth’s axis of rotation, major climate disruptions contributed to the evolutionary transitions between Eurasian Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis (~400,000 years ago) and between African Homo heidelbergensis and Homo sapiens (~300,000 years ago). From there, the team looked for all the places and times those conditions occurred in the model, creating time- evolving maps of potential hominin habitats.

Based on the press release by the Center for Climate Physics, Pusan National University (here)


Long term climate effects on archaic human habitats and species successions (2022): Axel Timmermann, Kyung-Sook Yun, Pasquale Raia, Jiaoyang Ruan, Alessandro Mondanaro, Elke Zeller, Christoph Zollikofer, Marcia Ponce de León, Danielle Lemmon, Matteo Willeit, Andrey Ganopolski, Nature [DOI:10.1038/s41586-022-04600-9]


PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
Twitter: @PIK_Climate