Early Pleistocene human occupation at the edge of the boreal zone in northwest Europe

Parfitt, Simon and Ashton, Nick and Lewis, Simon and Abel, Richard and Coope, Russell and Field, Mike and Gale, Rowena and Hoare, Peter and Larkin, Nigel R. and Lewis, Mark D. and Karloukovski, Vassil and Maher, Barbara and Peglar, Sylvia M. and Preece, Richard C. and Whittaker, John E. and Stringer, Chris B. (2010) Early Pleistocene human occupation at the edge of the boreal zone in northwest Europe. Nature, 466 (7303). pp. 229-233. ISSN 0028-0836

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The dispersal of early humans from Africa by 1.75 Myr ago led to a marked expansion of their range, from the island of Flores in the east to the Iberian peninsula in the west1–5. This range encompassed tropical forest, savannah and Mediterranean habitats, but has hitherto not been demonstrated beyond 456 N. Until recently, early colonization in Europe was thought to be confined to the area south of the Pyrenees and Alps. However, evidence from Pakefield (Suffolk,UK) at 0.7 Myr indicated that humans occupied northern European latitudes when a Mediterranean-type climate prevailed6. This provided the basis for an ‘ebb and flow’ model, where human populations were thought to survive in southern refugia during cold stages, only expanding northwards during fully temperate climates 5. Here we present new evidence from Happisburgh (Norfolk, UK) demonstrating that Early Pleistocene hominins were present in northern Europe ~0.78Myr ago when they were able to survive at the southern edge of the boreal zone. This has significant implications for our understanding of early human behaviour, adaptation and survival, as well as the tempo and mode of colonization after their first dispersal out of Africa.

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23 Apr 2012 08:17
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20 Sep 2023 00:19