The extreme cooling 1.12 million years ago ended the first human occupation of Europe

The oldest known human remains in Europe are from the Iberian Peninsula and suggest that the first Archaic humans arrived from southwest Asia 1.4 million years ago.

The climate at this time of the early Pleistocene was characterized by pwarm and humid interglacials and mild ice agesTherefore, it has long been assumed that once humans arrived in southern Europe, they could survive multiple climate cycles and adapt to the progressively colder conditions of the past 900,000 years.

However, a study by an international team led by researchers from University College London (UCL), the Institute for Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies (IDAEA-CSIC) and South Korea’s IBS Center for Climate Physics was published in the magazine Science discovered the occurrence of previously unknown extreme glacial conditions about 1.12 million years ago. “This challenges the idea of ​​an early and permanent human occupation of Europe,” says the UCL professor Chronis Tzedakis.

A team of paleoclimatologists from UCL, the University of Cambridge and IDAEA-CSIC reconstructed the conditions of a marine sediment core sampled off the coast of Portugal that showed the presence of abrupt climate changes, culminating in extreme glacial cooling 1.12 million years ago.

To our surprise, we found that the cooling was comparable to the most extreme events of recent ice ages.

Joan Grimalt, CSIC researcher

“To our surprise, we found that the cooling was comparable to the most extreme events of the recent ice ages,” says Professor Joan Grimalt, CSIC researcher at IDAEA. This would have placed significant stress on the small groups of hunter-gatherers, “particularly since early humans may have lacked adaptations such as adequate insulation against fat, effective clothing, shelter, or fire-making skills,” the researchers said Vasiliki Margari.

The pink shading on the map highlights areas where habitat suitability of early human species has been significantly reduced due to cooling, desiccation, and reduced food resources.  / Axel Timmermann

An uninhabited Iberian Peninsula

To estimate the effects of climate on early human populations, researchers at the IBS Center for Climate Physics have developed a model habitat suitability Linking climate data with fossil and archaeological evidence of human habitation in southwest Eurasia, compiled by researchers from the Natural History Museum in London and the British Museum.

“The results showed that the climate around the Mediterranean Sea deviated far from the conditions that early humans preferred during the cold glacial maximum,” says the IBS professor. Axel Timmerman.

Europe may have been repopulated by tougher people around 900,000 years ago

Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, London

Taken together, the data and model results suggest that the Iberian Peninsula and southern Europe in general were depopulated at least once in the early Pleistocene. The apparent lack of stone tools and human remains for the next 200,000 years raises the intriguing possibility of a long-term disruption to European occupation.

“If that’s true,” says co-author Professor Chris Stringerfrom the Natural History Museum, London, “Europe could have been recolonized about 900,000 years ago by more resilient humans, with evolutionary or behavioral changes that enabled survival in the increasing intensity of Middle Pleistocene glacial conditions.”


Vasiliki Margari et al. “Extreme glacial age suggests discontinuity in early human occupation of Europe.”. Science.

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