Volcanic ash layers illuminate the resilience of Neanderthals and early modern humans to natural hazards.
ABSTRACT: Marked changes in human dispersal and development during the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition have been attributed to massive volcanic eruption and/or severe climatic deterioration. We test this concept using records of volcanic ash layers of the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption dated to ca. 40,000 y ago (40 ka B.P.). The distribution of the Campanian Ignimbrite has been enhanced by the discovery of cryptotephra deposits (volcanic ash layers that are not visible to the naked eye) in archaeological cave sequences. They enable us to synchronize archaeological and paleoclimatic records through the period of transition from Neanderthal to the earliest anatomically modern human populations in Europe. Our results confirm that the combined effects of a major volcanic eruption and severe climatic cooling failed to have lasting impacts on Neanderthals or early modern humans in Europe. We infer that modern humans proved a greater competitive threat to indigenous populations than natural disasters.
Project description:The Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) volcanic eruption was the most explosive in Europe in the last 200,000 years. The event coincided with the onset of an extremely cold climatic phase known as Heinrich Event 4 (HE4) approximately 40,000 years ago. Their combined effect may have exacerbated the severity of the climate through positive feedbacks across Europe and possibly globally. The CI event is of particular interest not only to investigate the role of volcanism on climate forcing and palaeoenvironments, but also because its timing coincides with the arrival into Europe of anatomically modern humans, the demise of Neanderthals, and an associated major shift in lithic technology. At this stage, however, the degree of interaction between these factors is poorly known, based on fragmentary and widely dispersed data points. In this study we provide important new data from Eastern Europe which indicate that the magnitude of the CI eruption and impact of associated distal ash (tephra) deposits may have been substantially greater than existing models suggest. The scale of the eruption is modelled by tephra distribution and thickness, supported by local data points. CI ashfall extends as far as the Russian Plain, Eastern Mediterranean and northern Africa. However, modelling input is limited by very few data points in Eastern Europe. Here we investigate an unexpectedly thick CI tephra deposit in the southeast Romanian loess steppe, positively identified using geochemical and geochronological analyses. We establish the tephra as a widespread primary deposit, which blanketed the topography both thickly and rapidly, with potentially catastrophic impacts on local ecosystems. Our discovery not only highlights the need to reassess models for the magnitude of the eruption and its role in climatic transition, but also suggests that it may have substantially influenced hominin population and subsistence dynamics in a region strategic for human migration into Europe.
Project description:The 39 ka Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) super-eruption was the largest volcanic eruption of the past 200 ka in Europe. Tephra deposits indicate two distinct plume forming phases, Plinian and co-ignimbrite, characteristic of many caldera-forming eruptions. Previous numerical studies have characterized the eruption as a single-phase event, potentially leading to inaccurate assessment of eruption dynamics. To reconstruct the volume, intensity, and duration of the tephra dispersal, we applied a computational inversion method that explicitly accounts for the Plinian and co-ignimbrite phases and for gravitational spreading of the umbrella cloud. To verify the consistency of our results, we performed an additional single-phase inversion using an independent thickness dataset. Our better-fitting two-phase model suggests a higher mass eruption rate than previous studies, and estimates that 3/4 of the total fallout volume is co-ignimbrite in origin. Gravitational spreading of the umbrella cloud dominates tephra transport only within the first hundred kilometres due to strong stratospheric winds in our best-fit wind model. Finally, tephra fallout impacts would have interrupted the westward migration of modern hominid groups in Europe, possibly supporting the hypothesis of prolonged Neanderthal survival in South-Western Europe during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition.
Project description:Understanding the past dynamics of large-scale atmospheric systems is crucial for our knowledge of the palaeoclimate conditions in Europe. Southeastern Europe currently lies at the border between Atlantic, Mediterranean, and continental climate zones. Past changes in the relative influence of associated atmospheric systems must have been recorded in the region's palaeoarchives. By comparing high-resolution grain-size, environmental magnetic and geochemical data from two loess-palaeosol sequences in the Lower Danube Basin with other Eurasian palaeorecords, we reconstructed past climatic patterns over Southeastern Europe and the related interaction of the prevailing large-scale circulation modes over Europe, especially during late Marine Isotope Stage 3 (40,000-27,000 years ago). We demonstrate that during this time interval, the intensification of the Siberian High had a crucial influence on European climate causing the more continental conditions over major parts of Europe, and a southwards shift of the Westerlies. Such a climatic and environmental change, combined with the Campanian Ignimbrite/Y-5 volcanic eruption, may have driven the Anatomically Modern Human dispersal towards Central and Western Europe, pointing to a corridor over the Eastern European Plain as an important pathway in their dispersal.
Project description:The most explosive volcanic event of the Quaternary was the eruption of Mt. Toba, Sumatra, 75,000 y ago, which produced voluminous ash deposits found across much of the Indian Ocean, Indian Peninsula, and South China Sea. A major climatic downturn observed within the Greenland ice cores has been attributed to the cooling effects of the ash and aerosols ejected during the eruption of the Youngest Toba Tuff (YTT). These events coincided roughly with a hypothesized human genetic bottleneck, when the number of our species in Africa may have been reduced to near extinction. Some have speculated that the demise of early modern humans at that time was due in part to a dramatic climate shift triggered by the supereruption. Others have argued that environmental conditions would not have been so severe to have such an impact on our ancestors, and furthermore, that modern humans may have already expanded beyond Africa by this time. We report an observation of the YTT in Africa, recovered as a cryptotephra layer in Lake Malawi sediments, >7,000 km west of the source volcano. The YTT isochron provides an accurate and precise age estimate for the Lake Malawi paleoclimate record, which revises the chronology of past climatic events in East Africa. The YTT in Lake Malawi is not accompanied by a major change in sediment composition or evidence for substantial temperature change, implying that the eruption did not significantly impact the climate of East Africa and was not the cause of a human genetic bottleneck at that time.
Project description:Multiple, independent time markers are essential to correlate sediment and ice cores from the terrestrial, marine and glacial realms. These records constrain global paleoclimate reconstructions and inform future climate change scenarios. In the Northern Hemisphere, sub-visible layers of volcanic ash (cryptotephra) are valuable time markers due to their widespread dispersal and unique geochemical fingerprints. However, cryptotephra are not as widely identified in the Southern Hemisphere, leaving a gap in the climate record, particularly during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Here we report the first identification of New Zealand volcanic ash in Antarctic ice. The Oruanui supereruption from Taupo volcano (25,580??±??258?cal. a BP) provides a key time marker for the LGM in the New Zealand sector of the SW Pacific. This finding provides a high-precision chronological link to mid-latitude terrestrial and marine sites, and sheds light on the long-distance transport of tephra in the Southern Hemisphere. As occurred after identification of the Alaskan White River Ash in northern Europe, recognition of ash from the Oruanui eruption in Antarctica dramatically increases the reach and value of tephrochronology, providing links among climate records in widely different geographic areas and depositional environments.
Project description:A large volcanic sulfate increase observed in ice core records around 1450 C.E. has been attributed in previous studies to a volcanic eruption from the submarine Kuwae caldera in Vanuatu. Both EPMA-WDS (electron microprobe analysis using a wavelength dispersive spectrometer) and SEM-EDS (scanning electron microscopy analysis using an energy dispersive spectrometer) analyses of five microscopic volcanic ash (cryptotephra) particles extracted from the ice interval associated with a rise in sulfate ca. 1458 C.E. in the South Pole ice core (SPICEcore) indicate that the tephra deposits are chemically distinct from those erupted from the Kuwae caldera. Recognizing that the sulfate peak is not associated with the Kuwae volcano, and likely not a large stratospheric tropical eruption, requires revision of the stratospheric sulfate injection mass that is used for parameterization of paleoclimate models. Future work is needed to confirm that a volcanic eruption from Mt. Reclus is one of the possible sources of the 1458 C.E. sulfate anomaly in Antarctic ice cores.
Project description:Having thrived in Eurasia for 350,000 years Neandertals disappeared from the record around 40,000-37,000 years ago, after modern humans entered Europe. It was a complex process of population interactions that included cultural exchanges and admixture between Neandertals and dispersing groups of modern humans. In Europe Neandertals are always associated with the Mousterian while the Aurignacian is associated with modern humans only. The onset of the Aurignacian is preceded by "transitional" industries which show some similarities with the Mousterian but also contain modern tool forms. Information on these industries is often incomplete or disputed and this is true of the Uluzzian. We present the results of taphonomic, typological and technological analyses of two Uluzzian sites, Grotta La Fabbrica (Tuscany) and the newly discovered site of Colle Rotondo (Latium). Comparisons with Castelcivita and Grotta del Cavallo show that the Uluzzian is a coherent cultural unit lasting about five millennia, replaced by the Protoaurignacian before the eruption of the Campanian Ignimbrite. The lack of skeletal remains at our two sites and the controversy surrounding the stratigraphic position of modern human teeth at Cavallo makes it difficult to reach agreement about authorship of the Uluzzian, for which alternative hypotheses have been proposed. Pending the discovery of DNA or further human remains, these hypotheses can only be evaluated by archaeological arguments, i.e. evidence of continuities and discontinuities between the Uluzzian and the preceding and succeeding culture units in Italy. However, in the context of "transitional" industries with disputed dates for the arrival of modern humans in Europe, and considering the case of the Châtelperronian, an Upper Paleolithic industry made by Neandertals, typo-technology used as an indicator of hominin authorship has limited predictive value. We corroborate previous suggestions that the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition occurred as steps of rapid changes and geographically uneven rates of spread.
Project description:Excavated in 1949, Grotta dei Moscerini, dated MIS 5 to early MIS 4, is one of two Italian Neandertal sites with a large assemblage of retouched shells (n = 171) from 21 layers. The other occurrence is from the broadly contemporaneous layer L of Grotta del Cavallo in southern Italy (n = 126). Eight other Mousterian sites in Italy and one in Greece also have shell tools but in a very small number. The shell tools are made on valves of the smooth clam Callista chione. The general idea that the valves of Callista chione were collected by Neandertals on the beach after the death of the mollusk is incomplete. At Moscerini 23.9% of the specimens were gathered directly from the sea floor as live animals by skin diving Neandertals. Archaeological data from sites in Italy, France and Spain confirm that shell fishing and fresh water fishing was a common activity of Neandertals, as indicated by anatomical studies recently published by E. Trinkaus. Lithic analysis provides data to show the relation between stone tools and shell tools. Several layers contain pumices derived from volcanic eruptions in the Ischia Island or the Campi Flegrei (prior to the Campanian Ignimbrite mega-eruption). Their rounded edges indicate that they were transported by sea currents to the beach at the base of the Moscerini sequence. Their presence in the occupation layers above the beach is discussed. The most plausible hypothesis is that they were collected by Neandertals. Incontrovertible evidence that Neandertals collected pumices is provided by a cave in Liguria. Use of pumices as abraders is well documented in the Upper Paleolithic. We prove that the exploitation of submerged aquatic resources and the collection of pumices common in the Upper Paleolithic were part of Neandertal behavior well before the arrival of modern humans in Western Europe.
Project description:The Toba supereruption in Sumatra, ?74 thousand years (ka) ago, was the largest terrestrial volcanic event of the Quaternary. Ash and sulfate aerosols were deposited in both hemispheres, forming a time-marker horizon that can be used to synchronize late Quaternary records globally. A precise numerical age for this event has proved elusive, with dating uncertainties larger than the millennial-scale climate cycles that characterized this period. We report an astronomically calibrated (40)Ar/(39)Ar age of 73.88 ± 0.32 ka (1?, full external errors) for sanidine crystals extracted from Toba deposits in the Lenggong Valley, Malaysia, 350 km from the eruption source and 6 km from an archaeological site with stone artifacts buried by ash. If these artifacts were made by Homo sapiens, as has been suggested, then our age indicates that modern humans had reached Southeast Asia by ?74 ka ago. Our (40)Ar/(39)Ar age is an order-of-magnitude more precise than previous estimates, resolving the timing of the eruption to the middle of the cold interval between Dansgaard-Oeschger events 20 and 19, when a peak in sulfate concentration occurred as registered by Greenland ice cores. This peak is followed by a ?10 °C drop in the Greenland surface temperature over ?150 y, revealing the possible climatic impact of the eruption. Our (40)Ar/(39)Ar age also provides a high-precision calibration point for other ice, marine, and terrestrial archives containing Toba sulfates and ash, facilitating their global synchronization at unprecedented resolution for a critical period in Earth and human history beyond the range of (14)C dating.
Project description:The Late Pleistocene Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) super-eruption (Southern Italy) is the largest known volcanic event in the Mediterranean area. The CI tephra is widely dispersed through western Eurasia and occurs in close stratigraphic association with significant palaeoclimatic and Palaeolithic cultural events. Here we present new high-precision 14C (34.29?±?0.09 14C kyr BP, 1?) and 40Ar/39Ar (39.85?±?0.14 ka, 95% confidence level) dating results for the age of the CI eruption, which substantially improve upon or augment previous age determinations and permit fuller exploitation of the chronological potential of the CI tephra marker. These results provide a robust pair of 14C and 40Ar/39Ar ages for refining both the radiocarbon calibration curve and the Late Pleistocene time-scale at ca. 40 ka. In addition, these new age constraints provide compelling chronological evidence for the significance of the combined influence of the CI eruption and Heinrich Event 4 on European climate and potentially evolutionary processes of the Early Upper Palaeolithic.