Surviving climate change, then and now

April 16, 2018

Trade and social networking helped our Homo sapiens ancestors survive a climate-changing volcanic eruption 40,000 years ago, giving hope that we will be able to ride out global warming by staying interconnected, a new study suggests.

Analyzing ancient tools, ornaments and human remains from a prehistoric rock shelter called Riparo Bombrini, in Liguria on the Italian Riviera, archeologists at Université de Montréal and the University of Genoa conclude that the key to survival is cooperation.

Their study was published in early April in the Journal of Quaternary Science.

"Liguria is where some of the first Homo sapiens, more or less our direct ancestors, lived in Europe," said Julien Riel-Salvatore, a professor of archeology at UdeM who co-authored the study with his Italian colleague 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."

Home sapiens had been living in the region for about 1,000 years when a "super-eruption" in the Phlegraean Fields in southern Italy, west of present-day Naples, devastated much of Europe. "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. They survived by dealing with the uncertainty of sudden change."

In their work, the archeologists gathered tool fragments such as bladelets - small flakes knocked off large stones to use as barbs and slicing components of weapons for hunting - that showed the ingenuity of our early ancestors. Some of the flint they used was brought in from hundreds of kilometres away, indicating a very extensive social and trading network that helped them survive for the next 4,000 years.

"They had a link to people living far away, so that if things went haywire in the territory where they lived, they had the social option of depending on people they'd built relationships with - the broader the network, the easier it was to survive," said Riel-Salvatore, whose evidence also includes rare skeletal remains and a child's tooth, as well as shell and stone ornaments, that show Homo sapiens were there.

His study mirrors others on an even older archeological site, Mount Toba on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where a super-eruption 75,000 years ago was once thought to have come close to wiping out humanity entirely, a theory since disproven. In both cases, archeology has shown that evolution isn't always as dramatic as we think.

"This seems to be part of a pattern where humans are more adaptable and more resilient in the face of these enormously disruptive events," said Riel-Salvatore. "These events can be really terrible, but only in a limited way, not across continents or globally."

It's a bit of a leap to say that what happened tens of thousands of years ago can help predict how humans today will cope with climate change, but learning from the past does help situate us for the future - and even rebut climate-change deniers, he added.

"It underscores the importance of archeology in being able to inform the more immediate issues we face. Cooperation and resilient social networks were really key in helping people ride out dramatic climate change in the past. And considering some of the challenges we're facing nowadays, and some of the entrenched positions we have to deal with, maybe this notion that cooperation is fundamental is something we can communicate as a take-home lesson."

The bulk of the data the researchers gathered for their study was excavated between 2002 and 2005 from Riparo Bombrini, a part of the Balzi Rossi site complex from the Middle-Upper Paleolithic period that was first probed in 1938 and excavated in 1976. Over the next three years, Riel-Salvatore and Negrino intend to delve further into why the Neanderthal population there disappeared and was replaced by the better-equipped - and better-connected - Homo sapiens.
-end-
About this study

"Human adaptations to climatic change in Liguria across the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition," by Julien Riel?Salvatore and Fabio Negrino, was published April 3, 2018 in the Journal of Quaternary Science.

University of Montreal

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.