Europe’s first humans, Homo erectus, may have met their demise due to an "extreme cooling event" that occurred about 1.1 million years ago, according to a new study. Previous research has shown that Homo erectus arrived in Europe from Asia between 1.8 million and 1.4 million years ago, but they seem to have disappeared from the continent around 1.1 million years ago. This time period coincides with a previously unknown temperature downturn, suggesting that the cold weather may have played a role in their extinction. The study, published in the journal Science, provides evidence for this cooling event through the analysis of marine sediment samples and shows how the abrupt temperature drop would have made Europe too cold for archaic humans to survive. This research not only sheds light on the past, but also has implications for understanding the effects of climate change on human populations today.
Europe’s first humans wiped out by extreme cooling event
A new study suggests that Europe’s first humans, a population of Homo erectus, were likely wiped out by an "extreme cooling event" that occurred about 1.1 million years ago. This cooling period coincides with the disappearance of Homo erectus from Europe, who arrived on the continent between 1.8 million and 1.4 million years ago. The next evidence of archaic humans in Europe is from about 900,000 years ago, possibly indicating the arrival of a later and more robust species, Homo antecessor. The gap of 200,000 years corresponds with the newfound cooling phase, suggesting that the cold climate may have driven or wiped out the archaic humans.
Evidence from ocean cores
The researchers discovered evidence for the cooling event by analyzing cores of marine sediment from the ocean floor off the coast of Portugal. They examined elemental isotopes in the remains of marine plankton from both the ocean surface and the ocean floor, as well as pollen grains from land-based vegetation. Their analysis revealed an abrupt cooling about 1.15 million years ago. The water temperature near Lisbon, which is currently around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), dropped to around 43 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius) during the cold phase. This cooling likely caused Europe’s northern ice sheets to advance southward.
Astronomical and environmental factors
The main reason for the cooling event appears to be astronomical. During that time, Earth’s orbit around the sun was roughly circular due to Jupiter’s gravitational influence. This circular orbit is associated with other cooling phases in Earth’s climate. Additionally, there was a significant drop in the level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere during this period, although it is unclear whether this was the cause or consequence of the cooling. The extreme cold would have made Europe inhospitable for archaic humans, making it difficult for them to find food. They were not adapted to the cold and lacked the means to make fire, effective clothing, or shelters, leading to lower population resilience.
Implications for climate change
The findings of this study have important implications for the study of climate change. The research highlights how climatic variability in the past had profound effects on early human populations, potentially leading to regional abandonment and even extinction. This serves as a reminder that extreme weather events and changes in ecosystems due to climate change can have significant impacts on humanity today. Understanding the past can help us better prepare for the future and mitigate the effects of climate change.
In conclusion, the study suggests that an extreme cooling event around 1.1 million years ago likely led to the extinction of Europe’s first humans, Homo erectus. The evidence from ocean cores and the analysis of environmental factors indicate that the cold climate made it challenging for archaic humans to survive. This study emphasizes the importance of considering past climate variations when studying climate change and its potential impact on human populations.
Short takeaway: A new study suggests that Europe’s first humans, Homo erectus, were likely wiped out by an extreme cooling event around 1.1 million years ago. The cold climate made it difficult for the archaic humans to find food and survive. This study highlights the profound effects of past climate variability on early human populations and provides insights into the implications of climate change for humanity today.