Early humans in Europe endured very cold climates, researchers find

Remains from a cave in Bulgaria are the oldest samples of Upper Palaeolithic Homo sapiens in Europe and are important for research of the diaspora of early humans from the Middle East to Europe.

Researchers engage in excavations at Bacho Kiro Cave in Bulgaria (photo credit: TSENKA TSANOVA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Researchers engage in excavations at Bacho Kiro Cave in Bulgaria
(photo credit: TSENKA TSANOVA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Researchers from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the National Institute of Archaeology with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences discovered that hominids living in the Bacho Kiro Cave in Bulgaria 43,000-46,000 years ago faced extreme cold.

Archaeological remains from the cave are the oldest samples of Upper Palaeolithic Homo sapiens in Europe and are important for research of the diaspora of early humans from the Middle East to Europe during the Initial Upper Palaeolithic era.

Although most archeological models suggest that early humans were able to migrate to new environments due to warmer climates, the Max Planck researchers were able to ascertain that Homo sapiens endured very cold temperatures for thousands of years by analyzing enamel from the teeth of animals slaughtered by humans residing in the cave.

“Our evidence shows that these human groups were more flexible with regard to the environments they used and more adaptable to different climatic conditions than previously thought”, said Sarah Pederzani, one of the researchers.

“Using these new insights, new models of the spread of our species across Eurasia will now need to be constructed, taking into account their higher degree of climatic flexibility,” noted Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute, according to a press release from the institute.

Skeleton of a mammoth, in the George C. Page Museum, Los Angeles, California (credit: WOLFMANSF / WIKI COMMONS)Skeleton of a mammoth, in the George C. Page Museum, Los Angeles, California (credit: WOLFMANSF / WIKI COMMONS)

The study, published on Science.org, noted that cold climates "could perhaps explain the unusual presence of woolly mammoth, reindeer, giant deer, and wolverine in the faunal record for that time period at the site."

The study added that the presence of other animals adapted to warmer temperatures, including red deer, may indicate a variable climate, though it is unlikely that much of the archaeological record was formed during warmer periods. It also noted that the presence of both species adapted to warmer conditions and those adapted to colder conditions may be explained by the geographical diversity of the region.