While environmentalists and politicians push for policies to curb global warming, new research shows that early humans in Africa made cultural and industrial leaps during times of climate change.
“Such climate-driven pulses in southern Africa and more widely were probably fundamental to the origin of key elements of modern human behaviour in Africa and to the subsequent dispersal of Homo sapiens from its ancestral homeland,” reads a study published in the journal Nature Communications.
The study compared the archaeological evidence of human evolution with evidence of climate change.
“We show for the first time that the timing of… these periods of innovation coincided with abrupt climate change,” the study’s co-author, Martin Ziegler of the Cardiff University School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, told AFP.
Some of the earliest records of human culture and technology date from when early humans lived in South Africa during the Middle Stone Age — which lasted from 280,000 to 30,000 years ago.
Ziegler’s team reconstructed the South African climate for the past 100,000 years using a sediment core from South Africa’s east coast, which showed researchers changes in river discharge and rainfall.
“We found that South Africa experienced wetter conditions during these periods of cultural advance,” Ziegler added. “At the same time, large parts of sub-Saharan Africa experienced drier conditions, so that South Africa potentially acted as a refugium for early humans.”
Research shows that notable periods of human advancement occurred about 71,500 years ago, 64,000 years ago, and 59,000 years ago. Innovations during these times included the use of symbols linked to the development of complex languages, the use of stone tools, and the use of shell jewelry.
“It offers for the first time the possibility to compare the archaeological record with a record of climate change over the same period and thus helps us to understand the origins of modern humans,” Ziegler told AFP.
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