The history of the world is sophisticated as well as long given that the earth is approximated to be over four billion years old. Many events that shape the world as it is today occurred during the historical eras that were characterized by different climatic and environmental conditions. The paper discusses Paleolithic environs, also denoted to as paleoenvironments, and the effects of the former on Upper Late Stone Age hominins. The thesis of this document is that it is possible to reconstruct the particular Upper Paleolithic landscape with accuracy using the terrestrial and marine evidence on the earth’s surface. Furthermore, it is feasible to rebuild the period and the hominins of a particular location into the unique landscape with the cooperation and comparison of geographic information and archeological pieces of evidence. In the attempt to prove the thesis, this paper provides narrations to expound on geographic backgrounds of Upper Paleolithic era with the inclusion of methods for cycles of climatic changes. Identically, sufficient evidence from the glacial moraine, sea floor sediments, ice cores and pollens is explained. Next, the paper delineates the process of establishing essential features in a given local area by local records and links the process findings with human actions dated through archeological means.
Climatic Conditions of the Upper Paleolithic Environment
The Upper Paleolithic is the final division of the Paleolithic era which historians commonly refer to as Late Stone Age. Archeological and anthropological systems estimate that the period lasted from 50,000-10,000BC (Ahlberg et al.1996). According to Bradley (1999), Upper Paleolithic subdivision is the third part of the Old Stone Age era where some climatic changes took place. Marine and terrestrial evidence tell of the weather conditions that existed during the Upper Paleolithic period. During the period, dramatic variations in climatic conditions took place particularly in Europe. The Last Glacial Maximum marked the coldest phase of the glacial period, and the European continent was covered with ice masses. Bradley notes Hominids in Europe who were still hunters and gatherers were forced to leave the continent because of the unfavorable weather conditions. Geologists estimate that the period belonged to the Late Pleistocene Age and was the final part of the Pleistocene eon that lasted from 2,588,000 to 11,700BC (Banks et al., 2008). After the glacial period, a speedy warming took place and the heavy ice expanses melted. According to Malik (1996), the Last Glacial Maximum was closely followed by the Allerod Oscillation, which comprised of moist and warm global period that lasted from 11500-10800BC. Afterward, climatic conditions changed drastically and within no time, the Younger Dryas period set in. it was during the Younger Dryas era that the Irish elk became extinct due to the drought and high temperatures of the time (Barnosky 2005). Geological studies reveal that most of the massive glaciers formed during the Last Glacial Maximum receded during the late stages of the epoch which led to a rise in the level of water in the Black Sea, the English Channel, and the Irish Sea. The rise in sea levels wiped out evidence of human activities in the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.
To understand the world’s geological periods, it is imperative to backtrack climatic conditions using physical and marine evidence that give solid proof of past climatic conditions. Additionally, historical statistics and accounts from other disciplines help in shedding more light on the past environments and weather patterns. What is more, advances in technology have equipped man with modern and accurate systems that can date evidence to determine climatic conditions of the past. It is only through backtracking of climate that modern human beings can accurately demystify the nature of the Paleoenvironments of the Upper Paleolithic period and place the hominids and their archeological evidence into a precisely reconstructed landscape. Studies of histories of past cultures can help in unearthing climatic settings that existed in the historical period of interest. As an illustration, past migrations have contributed to explaining climatic conditions that prevailed and that instigated the need for movement. Modern technology is the ultimate tool for understanding the paleoclimates that have characterized the world in the past years. Climatic history is usually preserved within layers of sediments that gradually accumulate on sea and lake bottoms. Such layers can be hundreds of millions of years old, but they contain complete information about past climatic conditions. As an illustration, ice cores with a yearly resolution have been sued to study past weather conditions particularly in Europe. Climatic accounts are usually entrenched in ice, and encrusted structures show changes in climatic conditions over periods of time. Studies of the pieces of evidence using modern technology can garner much information enough to reconstruct the climate and environmental conditions of the Upper Paleolithic period.
The Large Glacial Cycle
The glacial-interglacial divisions remained more conspicuous throughout the Pleistocene epoch than other eons. The warm and short intervals of time between glaciation episodes are denoted as interglacial. During glacial maximums, glaciers would even extend past the 40° latitudinal line which illustrates the gravity of the ice ages. According to Wohlfarth (2008), there are four distinct glaciation periods during the Pleistocene era namely, Huronian Glaciation, Cryogenian glaciation, Andean-Saharan glaciation, and Karoo Ice Age. The Huronian glaciation era is the earliest and started around 2.4 billion years in the past. The Quaternary period is the present ice age also referred to as the Pleistocene glaciation. The Quaternary era is described as an ice age since there is permanent Antarctica ice sheet. Terrestrial evidence in Greenland, North America, Europe and Asia indicates that large ice sheets as thick as 14 kilometers existed during the glacial periods. As a matter of fact, compacted ice cores that were under extreme pressure have revealed that some ice sheets were as thick as 15 kilometers.
According to the Geographic Society of America (2000), the Dansgaard–Oeschger event abbreviated as D-O events and Heinrich events were short-term climatic changes deduced from the study of compacted ice cores. The research further indicated that the D-O events occurred 25 times and the periods were characterized by rapid fluctuations of climatic conditions. The study of Greenland ice cores formed during the Eemian interglacial period revealed that there were episodes of rapid warming which were closely followed by cold spells that lasted longer. As a matter of fact, the warms episodes were decades long while the cold periods lasted for over a century. As a result, the cold spells led to expansion of the polar masses of ice and occupied a larger portion of the North Atlantic Ocean. Bonds events were similar to D-O events and occurred in Holocene. By and large, evidence showed that D-O events occurred quasi-periodically about once in a span of 1470 years. During the period, the mean annual change of temperature was from 5-7 ℃ for periods of 300-500 years or less.
According to Berger (1992), Heinrich events were natural occurrences characterized by disintegration of massive armadas from icebergs of the North Atlantic. For instance, enough evidence was collected from the Lauren tide ice masses in Hudson Bay off the Canadian coast. Evidence suggests that speedy cooling period occurred and temperature decreased and ranged from 3-6 ℃. As the ice sheets interacted with the rocky tundra, eroded rock mass was dropped when glaciers melted. The debris was dropped into the North Atlantic Ocean floor and is referred to as ice rafted debris (IRD). The melting caused a rise in ocean level by addition of fresh water which changed the thermohaline patterns of circulation. Generally, a Heinrich event took place after four D-O events. While D-O events lead to warming of the northern hemisphere, Heinrich events lead to destruction of the area’s ice masses which led to changes in the geography of the Upper Paleolithic Europe. The ice rafted debris and ice cores in Greenland have been vital in understanding past environments (Berger 1992).
The Milankovitch Philosophy is the standard in explaining joint climatic effects orchestrated by changes in earth’s movement. Deviations in core movements of the earth such as eccentricity, precession, and axial inclination had detrimental effects on weather forms on the surface through the process of orbital forcing. Wohlfarth noted that the axis of the earth ended a complete single cycle in about 26,000 years. The earth’s elliptical orbit is much slower, and the combined effect of the two cycles creates a margin of 21,000 orbital years and astronomical seasons. Milankovitch sought to explain the glacial-interglacial division as the lowest level of the climatic cycle which is shorter than 125,000 years. According to Timothy and Levy (2008), the Milankovitch Cycles explain the quantity of solar radiation on earth’s surface through time in three cyclical changes. As such, change in unconventionality of the earth’s orbit is inherently different from solar radiation. As a matter of fact, orbit changes affect the distance between the sun and earth and hence the solar radiation and intensity. Next, the earth axial tilt changes from 22.1 to 24.5 ℃ which translate to increase or decrease of solar radiation received in an area over a period. Consequently, axial tilt, unconventionality, and weather keep changing in a process of climatic precession. Solar forcing refers to the process in which variations in angular alignment and movement of the earth modify the position and quantity of solar energy reaching earth’s surface. According to Geist (1987), land masses are more receptive and responsive to changes in solar radiation as compared to water bodies such as seas and oceans. Jones (2011), invokes Kepler’s second law to drive the point that solar radiation is affected slightly by changes in the earth’s eccentricity. As such, higher eccentricity is the standard for observation changes in climatic behavior. For instance, precession and axial tilt are more pronounced with higher eccentric changes. As an illustration, global summer in the northern hemispheres is not as warm as would be expected until the era when a balance will be established.
Sources of Evidence
As aforementioned, there are numerous sources of evidence that archeologists and geologists have studies to reveal the past climatic conditions. The results of such studies have been used to create hypothetical atmospheric conditions that might have existed during the period of study. There are two primary sources of evidence namely, land and ocean evidence. Land evidence comprises of glacial sediments, pollen grains, and aerosols. The ocean evidence includes seabed sediments and ice cores. Modern dating techniques come in handy in estimating the age of specimen and placing them in their correct geological periods. According to Grassman and Hellgren (1984), foraminifers’ species that live on the ocean floor died and became part of the sea floor sediments. With time, the dead species formed sequential layers that are indicative of the different time periods. Naturally, the chemical composition of foraminifera’s shells changes according to times of sedimentation or period since death. As such, the variance in oxygen variants in the oceanic waters at a particular time can be related to a given period. In this type of dating, the balance of oxygen-16 and oxygen-18 isotopes is the key to unearthing the age of sediments. Oxygen-18 has 8 protons and ten neutrons which are heavier than the naturally abundant oxygen-16 that has equal numbers of protons and neutrons (Timothy & Levy 2008). Waters rich in O16 characterize the upper part of the ocean while O18 are abundant in the lower waters. In ice sheets and the oceans, the balance is indicative of climatic changes decided by temperature. In this case, water molecules with light oxygen evaporate easily and readily than their counterparts with heavier oxygen atoms. Strong evaporation that exceeds input from rain and rivers reduces the oxygen-16 content of the upper parts of the oceans which concentrates the oxygen-18 in water. At the same time, condensation of water vapor with oxygen-18 is easier than vapor with oxygen-16. This translates to increased oxygen-18 content in both condensation and evaporation. In the ice ages, the changes in the balance of oxygen isotopes affected marine organisms, and balance in oxygen is indicative of the climatic period in which they existed.
The same principle is used in the assessment of ice cores and sediment cores to establish minute changes. Goss (1983), asserts that snowfall is compressed into ice cores through time and strata are formed according to the amount of snow and their longevity. Such strata can be identified since there are clearly different winter and summer snows where snow in summer is airy, and light and winter snow is dense and relatively dark. The Greenland Ice Core Project and Vostok Ice Core Project in Antarctica are examples of the process. Coral reefs are inhabited by organisms that live in colonies and establish massive limestone structures. Such layers of lime disintegrate with each generation, and newer generations create their colonies on top of their predecessors. Layers can be studies to reveal past climatic trends.
Glacial sediments and pollen are the physical evidence of paleoclimates (Müller et al., 2010). Glacial ice and sediments contain air bubbles, dust and oxygen isotopes that are indicative of the past climates. Glacial sediments are called till. Where till is found, it indicates the presence of past glaciation and studies of the contents can reveal the period of glaciation.
Palynology involves the study of fossil pollen grains to reconstruct changes in vegetation and climatic conditions. Pollen grains of fossil plants do not rot and are conserved inside sediments in their natural form (Barnosky 2005). Analysis of such grains preserved in sequential layers of sediments can help in explaining the type of climate and environmental conditions.
The Upper Paleolithic lasted for 40,000 years from 50,000-10,000BC. Geologists estimate that the period belonged to the Late Pleistocene Age were the final part that lasted from 2,588,000-11,700BC. The Last Glacial Maximum occurred during the period and was closely followed by the Allerod Oscillation, which comprised of moist and warm global period that lasted from 11500-10800BC (Berger, 1978). Additionally, the Huronian glaciation period is the earliest and began around 2.4 billion years ago. The Quaternary period is the current ice age also referred to as the Pleistocene glaciation.
Relationship between People and the Environment
Human beings have shaped their environments and climatic conditions with their activities since time immemorial. People shape environmental and climatic conditions through deforestations and pollution of the environment. The hominids of the Upper Paleolithic environments were hunters and gatherers and inhabited the European continent (Banks et al. 2008). Before the last glacial maximum, the climatic conditions were favorable, and the hominids gathered wild berries and hunted wild animals for food. The Irish elk was a favorite because of its size and availability. Early humans had thick body hair that protected them from extreme cold. As the body hair continually decreased, they resorted to wearing animal hides to shield their bodies from the biting cold. The Upper Paleolithic period was characterized by two major periods that changed the lifestyles of the hominids (Banks et al. 2008). First, the Last Glacial Maximum period was too cold for them to survive. As a result, most of the hominids migrated from Northern Europe to western shores of the Atlantic and southern shores of the Mediterranean. Second, the Young Dryas period was too hot and the drought that resulted led to the reduction of edible berries and extinction of the Irish elk.
Reconstruction Fidelity Environment
Current technological advancements are producing significant results from minute details sourced from terrestrial and marine evidence. The possibility for reconstruction is relatively promising, and the possibility of rebuilding site-specific climate is a near possibility. According to Bradley (1999), maximum latewood density values are attuned in the same way as with the ring-width data. However, optimal climatic reconstructions may be achieved by using both ring widths and densitometry data to maximize the climatic signal in each sample. Apparently, for useful dendroclimatic reconstructions, samples close to the sensitive end of the spectrum are favored as these would comprise the strongest climatic signal. As a matter of fact, drought reconstructions have been achieved successfully in California. Human actions dated archeologically can be matched with evidence from pollen to help in reconstruction. In the first place, the Californian reconstruction of the drought of 1980 was based on evidence of human actions. Although this reconstruction dates to over 50,000 years, substantial proof of the impacts of human activities can aid in reconstructing the era. The Upper Palaeolithic period was 40,000 years long which is a relatively significant period. To ensure the accuracy of the analysis, site-specific details including microscopic pollen and microscopic pollen must be examined, and the results must be synchronized for reconstruction fidelity.
Specific Case Study
The 2012-2014 droughts in the state of California were predicted to be the worst in the history of the country. In attempts to reconstruct past climatic conditions, two researchers collected tree ring samples from California blue oaks in southern and central California. The trees are known to thrive in the driest parts and can grow anywhere in the state. Blue oaks are sensitive to moisture and their rings exhibit moisture fluctuation vividly. After the release of the climatic data by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the scientists used blue oaks tree rings to reconstruct rainfall backdated to the thirteenth century. They also calculated the severity of the drought using Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and NOAA’s estimates to measure the index of soil moisture (Jeong-Yeon et al. 2007). Altogether, the scientists found out that little precipitation and low soil moisture index were not unusual in the state. In fact, California had experienced worse droughts in history and recent droughts are less severe.
Studies of terrestrial and marine shreds of evidence using modern technology have revealed more information on the Upper Palaeolithic period. Our understanding of the nature of the time has changed, and it is possible to place the Late Stone Age hominids and their archeological evidence into the accurately reconstructed landscape with high precision (Jones et al. 2011). Additionally, many Quaternary reconstructions have been done successfully, and this is not an exception.
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