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Late Pleistocene climate drivers of early human migration

Nature volume 538, pages 9295 (06 October 2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

On the basis of fossil and archaeological data it has been hypothesized that the exodus of Homo sapiens out of Africa and into Eurasia between ~50–120 thousand years ago occurred in several orbitally paced migration episodes1,2,3,4. Crossing vegetated pluvial corridors from northeastern Africa into the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant and expanding further into Eurasia, Australia and the Americas, early H. sapiens experienced massive time-varying climate and sea level conditions on a variety of timescales. Hitherto it has remained difficult to quantify the effect of glacial- and millennial-scale climate variability on early human dispersal and evolution. Here we present results from a numerical human dispersal model, which is forced by spatiotemporal estimates of climate and sea level changes over the past 125 thousand years. The model simulates the overall dispersal of H. sapiens in close agreement with archaeological and fossil data and features prominent glacial migration waves across the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant region around 106–94, 89–73, 59–47 and 45–29 thousand years ago. The findings document that orbital-scale global climate swings played a key role in shaping Late Pleistocene global population distributions, whereas millennial-scale abrupt climate changes, associated with Dansgaard–Oeschger events, had a more limited regional effect.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Feakins, M. Segschneider and Y. Chikamoto for discussions and L. Menviel for providing the data of the LOVECLIM Dansgaard-Oeschger hindcast experiment, A. Ganopolski for providing the ice-sheet forcing from CLIMBER and M. Tigchelaar for providing the PMIP3 model data. A.T. is supported through the US NSF (grants 1341311, 1400914).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

    • Axel Timmermann
    •  & Tobias Friedrich
  2. Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

    • Axel Timmermann

Authors

  1. Search for Axel Timmermann in:

  2. Search for Tobias Friedrich in:

Contributions

A.T. designed the research study, wrote the numerical model code for the human dispersal model, conducted the human dispersal numerical experiments and wrote the paper. T.F. ran the transient climate model simulation, conducted the model/proxy data comparison and contributed to the interpretation of the data.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Axel Timmermann.

The climate model and human dispersal model data are available on http://apdrc.soest.hawaii.edu/projects/HDM.

Reviewer Information

Nature thanks P. deMenocal, R. Jennings, M. Petraglia and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Videos

  1. 1.

    Video of human density (individuals per 100 km2) in Human Dispersal Model simulation

    This video shows scenario A (Early Exit) along with simulated sea-ice in LOVECLIM experiment and ice-sheet forcing from CLIMBER.

  2. 2.

    Video of human density (individuals per 100 km2) in Human Dispersal Model simulation

    This video shows scenario B (Late Exit) along with simulated sea-ice in LOVECLIM experiment and ice-sheet forcing from CLIMBER.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature19365

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