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Understanding a threshold in Human evolution at 450-350 ka through the roots of Neanderthal behavior. – NEANDROOTS

Submission summary

From the hominin evolution perspective, interglacial MIS 11 (including glacial MIS 10 in some places) stands out in Europe. Archaeological remains have highlighted that this period as a threshold. Following MIS 12 glaciation, considered by many as a major climatic driven crisis for Hominins, archaeological records show an increasing number of occupations, evidence of new subsistence behaviours and numerous technical innovations, as well as evidences of an early regionalization of traditions. This threshold time in Western Europe, corresponding to the end of the Lower Paleolithic (and Acheulean) and the beginning of the Middle Paleolithic, is at present under-investigated, in particular as regards why and how innovations appeared and were transmitted among populations. The reasons underlying these changes, pushing back the roots of the Neanderthal world further back, have yet to be identified: (1) Was this behavioral evolution rooted in pre-existing traditions?, (2) Was it due to arrivals of new populations or the onset of Neanderthal from Middle Pleistocene hominids?, (3) Was there a population increase conducive to early regional networks of sites and the diffusion of innovations, or/and (4) Was it due to environmental adaptation to changes in climatic cycles? The last hypothesis is supported by climatic and environmental reconstructions. MIS 12 is a severe glacial period and MIS11 is an exceptionally long interglacial. Such a long-lasting interglacial period after a harsh glacial could have encouraged hominin occupation in Europe. European vegetation is one key, driving biomass availability for large herbivores and affecting the mobility of human groups. As part of this interdisciplinary project, NEANDROOTS proposes: (1) to build a large comprehensive database of existing sites covering the 450 to 350 ka period, (2) to bridge the gap between the chronological framework of the archaeological sites and the environmental data, (3) to develop methodological approaches to identify regional patterns and diffusion models of innovations, (4) to question the role of population size and structure by modelling, and (5) to test the impact of climate evolution on hominin adaptation by iLOVECLIM model and ECN modelling. This innovative contribution to Human Evolution for the period after the MIS 12 aims to contribute to: (1) Building models of hominid responses to various (and new) environments based on the disappearance and acquisition of tools and the expertise retained for successful adaptation, (2) Understanding the mechanisms of cultural transmission over time and the processes by which innovations or inventions spread, and are maintained.
We aim to contribute to understanding the earliest cyclic process of regionalization during prehistoric times, well before those of late Neanderthals (MIS 4-3). This approach has never been undertaken for the beginning of the Neanderthal world. The creation of a homogenous, unified chronostratigraphy will enable us to place new behaviours, technological advances and morphological modifications of hominins in a single climatic and environmental framework. Synoptic maps will encompass climate, vegetation and comprehensive archaeological data with a high resolution. A detailed analysis of interactions between Humans and Environments could become a model for understanding past and current analogous evolutions. Ultimately, we question the resilience of societies to climate change. The close association between physical mechanisms, climate proxy data and archaeological evidence will improve our capacity for trans-disciplinary work and set new boundaries for the method. Our interdisciplinary project involves seven French teams, with complementary specialties: MNHN, LSCE, EPOC/PACEA/University of Bordeaux, IGE, LMD, LGP and University of Lille. An extensive European network will contribute to the project, comprising prehistorians, anthropologist, specialist of micro-wear and of modelling of demography.

Project coordinator

Madame Marie-Helene Moncel (Histoire naturelle de l'Homme préhistorique)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

EPOC Environnements et paléoenvironnements océaniques et continentaux
PACEA DE LA PREHISTOIRE A L'ACTUEL : CULTURE, ENVIRONNEMENT ET ANTHROPOLOGIE
LGP Laboratoire de Géographie Physique : Environnements Quaternaires et Actuels
HALMA Histoire, Archéologie, Littérature des Mondes Anciens
LSCE Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement
IGE Institut des Géosciences de l'environnement
LMD Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique
MNHN- HNHP Histoire naturelle de l'Homme préhistorique

Help of the ANR 343,455 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2019 - 48 Months

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