Exploring the role of changing climates in human evolution is currently impeded by a scarcity of climatic information at the same temporal scale as the human behaviors documented in archaeological sites. This is mainly caused by high uncertainties in the chronometric dates used to correlate long-term climatic records with archaeological deposits. One solution is to generate climatic data directly from archaeological materials representing human behavior. Here we use oxygen isotope measurements of Bos/Bison tooth enamel to reconstruct summer and winter temperatures in the Late Pleistocene when Neandertals were using the site of La Ferrassie. Our results indicate that, despite the generally cold conditions of the broader period and despite direct evidence for cold features in certain sediments at the site, Neandertals used the site predominantly when climatic conditions were mild, similar to conditions in modern day France. We suggest that due to millennial scale climate variability, the periods of human activity and their climatic characteristics may not be representative of average conditions inferred from chronological correlations with long-term climatic records. These results highlight the importance of using direct routes, such as the high-resolution archives in tooth enamel from anthropogenically accumulated faunal assemblages, to establish climatic conditions at a human scale.
The stable isotope project was conceived and designed by K.B., S.P. and J.-J.H. The La Ferrassie project was conceived by A.T. in cooperation with H.L.D., D.S., S.P.M., P.G. and V.A., who all provided contextual information. Zooarchaeological and paleontological analyses were performed by T.E.S. and S.M. Stone tool analysis was conducted by S.P.M. Geo(archaeo)logical analysis was conducted by V.A. and P.G. Sample selection was conducted by K.B., S.P. and T.E.S. Sampling, sample processing for oxygen and strontium isotope analysis, and TC/EA-IRMS analysis were carried out by S.P. Sampling, sample processing and EA-IRMS for carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis were conducted by K.B. and S.P. Code and data analysis were written and conducted by S.P. S.P. wrote the paper with contributions from all authors.
- stable isotope analysis