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Climate Change Drove the Extinction of Other Early Human Species: Study

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Oct 16, 2020

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Image Credit: Chip Clark, Jim DiLoreto, & Don Hurlbert/Smithsonian Institution

Scientists have found “statistically robust evidence” that climate change drove early human species extinct.

Published in the journal One Earth Thursday, the study combined fossil records and climate modeling for the last 5 million years in order to understand the climate preferences of early humans and how they reacted to climate changes. The period studied by the researchers covers the extinction of Homo habilisHomo ergasterHomo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo neanderthalensis.

The extensive fossil database used in the study spans 2,754 archaeological records, which were used to determine the climatic niche for each one of these species. “… We discovered that, for vanished human species, extinction had a candid, unquestionable climatic drive…. Notably, Homo sapiens is the only species whose climatic niche was still expanding toward the end of our analysis, when the Neanderthals went extinct,” the paper notes.


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“We were surprised by the regularity of the effect of climate change… It was crystal clear, for the extinct species and for them only, that climatic conditions were just too extreme just before extinction and only in that particular moment,” said Pasquale Raia, the associate professor of paleontology and paleoecology from University of Naples Federico II in Italy, who led the study.

The researchers noted that despite “technological innovations including the use of fire and refined stone tools, the formation of complex social networks, and — in the case of Neanderthals — even the production of glued spear points, fitted clothes,” the early human species succumbed to intense climate change. Will history repeat itself for the existing human species: Homo sapiens? The researchers couldn’t tell from the data, but, “I personally take this as a thunderous warning message. Climate change made Homo vulnerable and hapless in the past, and this may just be happening again,” Raia said.

“It is worrisome to discover that our ancestors, which were no less impressive in terms of mental power as compared to any other species on Earth, could not resist climate change… They tried hard; they made for the warmest places in reach as the climate got cold, but at the end of the day, that wasn’t enough. And we found that just when our own species is sawing the branch we’re sitting on by causing climate change,” Raia told The Independent.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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