In a groundbreaking study, scientists have uncovered evidence of a little-known period of extremely low temperatures that occurred more than 1.1 million years ago. This remarkable discovery challenges the long-held view that our ancestors inhabited Europe continuously for the last 1.5 million years. The study shows that there may have been a gap of about 200,000 years during which the continent was virtually abandoned.
The discovery was made by analyzing ocean sediments, which showed strong evidence of a “big freeze” that caused temperatures in Europe to drop by about 5 degrees Celsius. While this drop may seem small, it posed huge problems for early humans, who did not fully know how to control fire or make warm clothing.
The cold conditions combined with a lack of food sources made survival during this period very difficult. Professor Axel Timmermann of the BS Center for Climate Physics in Busan, South Korea, explains, “Early humans were not yet well adapted to such extreme conditions. There is no direct evidence that they could even control fire at this time. Therefore, the extremely cold and dry conditions over Europe and the corresponding lack of food must have made human survival very difficult.”
When the big freeze subsided, Europe was still relatively cold. However, humans probably began to re-enter the region, potentially with new adaptations to help them survive. Professor Nick Ashton from the British Museum suggests that this ice age may have caused evolutionary changes in humans, such as an increase in body fat for insulation or increased hair growth. It may also have triggered technological advances in hunting and gathering skills, as well as more efficient clothing and shelter.
This remarkable discovery sheds light on an often overlooked period of human history and highlights the resilience and adaptability of our ancestors. It also serves as a reminder of the profound impact climate change can have on our species. Today, as we face the challenges of a rapidly changing climate, understanding how our predecessors coped can be a valuable resource for our survival.