Climate change in the early Holocene – Is there an impact on that?

Radiocarbon dating from a prehistoric cemetery in Northern Russia reveals human stress caused by a global cooling event 8,200 years ago Early hunter-gatherers evolved more complex social systems and, unusually, a large cemetery in the face of climate

Peer-reviewed publications


Location Olenii Ostrov

Oxford University Newsletter

16:00 (GMT), Thursday, January 27, 2022

Climate change during the Early Holocene

  • Radiocarbon dates back to prehistoric times Cemetery in Northern Russia reveals human stress caused by global cooling event 8,200 years ago
  • Early hunter-gatherers developed more complex and unusual social systems, a large cemetery in the face of climate change.

New insight into how our early ancestors coped with major changes in climate revealed in searchpublished today [27 Jan] in Nature Ecology & Evolution, by an international group, led by Professor Rick Schults from Oxford University School of Archeology.

New radiocarbon dating, it revealed, reveals that Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov’s large Early Holocene cemetery, at Lake Onega, about 500 miles north of Moscow, was previously thought to have been in use for centuries. , in fact, was only used for a century or two. Furthermore, this appears to be in response to times of climate stress.

The team believes that the construction of the cemetery represents a social response to the stresses caused by the depletion of the area’s resources. At a time of climate change, Lake Onega, the second largest lake in Europe, has its own restorative ecological microclimate. This would attract games, including elk, to its shores while the lake itself would provide an efficient source of fishing. Due to falling temperatures, many of the shallower lakes in the area may be vulnerable to the well-known winter fish deaths caused by the depletion of oxygen under the ice.

The creation of a cemetery at the site would help define group membership among previously dispersed hunter-gatherer groups – minimizing potential conflicts over access to the lake’s resources.

But as the climate improved, the team found, the cemeteries largely fell out of use, as residents presumably returned to a more mobile life and the lake became less central.

Changes in behavior – to what might be considered a more ‘complex’ social system, with a rich amount of offerings – depend on circumstances. But they do show the presence of key decision-makers, and the team says the findings also imply that early hunter-gatherer communities were flexible and highly resilient. .

The results have implications for understanding the context for the emergence and dissolution of socioeconomic and territorial inequalities under conditions of socio-ecological stress.

Radiocarbon dating of human remains and related animal remains at the site suggests that the cemetery’s primary use spanned 100-300 years, with a focus on ca. 8250 to 8,000 BP. This coincides with a strong 8.2 ka cooling event, so this site may provide evidence of how these humans responded to climate-induced environmental change.

The Holocene (the current geological epoch that began about 11,700 years ago) was relatively stable relative to current events. But there are some climate fluctuations recorded in the Greenland ice core. The best known of these events was a cooling event 8,200 years ago, the largest climate recession of the Holocene, lasting one to two centuries. But there is little evidence that the hunter-gatherers, who occupied most of Europe at this time, were affected much, and if so, in specific ways.

From EurekAlert!

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