The global spread of humankind is inextricably linked to the environmental conditions faced by our early ancestors. On Wednesday, a research team from South Korea’s Pusan National University revealed research from supercomputing models that suggest how much of mankind’s rise has been due to changes in prehistoric weather.
The Pusan team, led by climate physicist Axel Timmermann, used an “unprecedented transient Pleistocene-coupled general circulation model simulation in combination with an extensive compilation of fossil and archaeological records to study spatiotemporal habitat suitability for five hominin species over the past 2 million years.” , according to the study published in Nature.
This 2-million-year model, which the team calls a 2ma simulation, “reproduces important paleoclimatic records such as tropical sea surface temperatures, Antarctic temperatures, the East African hydroclimate, and the East Asian summer monsoon in close agreement with paleo reconstructions. ‘ to ensure a realistic representation of how southern Africa’s rain patterns are likely to have changed at this time.
Essentially, the team studied how the 41,000-year cyclical patterns of precipitation and temperature caused by the are changing Axial wobble of the earth affecting the availability of resources for early humans and our close relatives. By combining the synthetic data generated by the 2ma simulation with the hard evidence from fossil and archaeological finds, the team unraveled the locations where this was the case homo sapiens and our genetic offshoots would most likely be inhabited.
The Pusan team found some surprising trends emerging from the data. The researchers found, for example, that around 700,000 years ago Homo heidelbergensis (believed to be the ancestors of both Neanderthals and modern humans) began to expand their traditional range. They were able to do this because our planet’s elliptical orbit at the time created wetter, more habitable climate conditions to support expansion. The simulation projected the movement of these wet patches across Earth, and researchers found evidence in the fossil record that they moved with them.
“The global collection of skulls and tools is not randomly distributed in time,” said Timmermann Nature. “It follows a pattern.”
Timmermann explained that these results could support the single evolutionary path hypothesis, which posits that climate change led to hotter, drier conditions in South Africa and Southern Africa 700,000 years ago H. heidelbergensis evolutionary response to these changes eventually led to homo sapiens.
“We recognize that our species divisions can be contentious and that these do not necessarily require constancy of morphology, habitat and behavior,” the team wrote. “Even if some species attributions such as H. heidelbergensis could be questioned, we remain confident that the bulk of the record poses little challenge, given that 86 percent of core data is well-defined, widely accepted data H. Neanderthals or H. sapiens Record and tool making traditions.”
These findings are unlikely to end the debate about the beginnings of mankind, but rather add to our growing patchwork of understanding.
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