How cold was it for Neanderthals moving to Central Europe during warm phases of the last glaciation?

Grzegorz Skrzypek, Andrzej Wiśniewski, Pauline F. Grierson
Quaternary Science Reviews
Volume 30, Issues 5-6, March 2011, Pages 481-487


Precise estimates of mean annual temperature (MAT) for when Neanderthals occupied Central Europe are critical for understanding the role that climatic and associated environmental factors played in Neanderthal migrations and in their ultimate extinction. Neanderthals were continuously present in the relatively warm regions of southern and Western Europe in the Pleistocene but only temporarily settled Central Europe (CE), presumably because of its colder and less hospitable climate. Here, we present a new approach for more spatially and temporally accurate estimation of palaeotemperatures based on the stable oxygen isotope composition of phosphates extracted from animal teeth found at sites linked directly to concurrent Neanderthal occupation. We provide evidence that Neanderthals migrated along the Odra Valley of CE during warmer periods throughout the Upper Pleistocene. The MATs during these migrations were about 6.8 °C for the warm phase of Oxygen Isotope Stage OIS 5a–d (prior to the OIS4 cold event) at not, vert, similar115–74,000 yr BP and about 6.3 °C during the early OIS 3 warm phase not, vert, similar59–41,000 yr BP. Our results show that temperatures during these phases peaked 2–4 °C above longer term estimates from ice cores and pollen records. We argue that our approach can provide valuable insights into evaluating the role of climate in human migration patterns in the Pleistocene.