Long-term climate record inferred from early-middle Pleistocene amphibian and squamate reptile assemblages at the Gran Dolina Cave, Atapuerca, Spain

J Hum Evol. 2009 Jan;56(1):55-65. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2008.08.020. Epub 2008 Nov 5.

Abstract

The Gran Dolina cave site is famous for having delivered some of the oldest hominin remains of Western Europe (Homo antecessor, ca. 960 ka). Moreover, the evidence of lithic industries throughout the long vertical section suggests occupation on the part of hominins from the latest early Pleistocene (levels TD3/4, TD5, and TD6) to the late middle Pleistocene (level TD10). The Gran Dolina Sondeo Sur (TDS) has furnished a great number of small-vertebrate remains; among them some 40,000 bones are attributed to amphibians and squamates. Although they do not differ specifically from the extant herpetofauna of the Iberian Peninsula, the overlap of their current distribution areas (= mutual climatic range method) in Spain can provide mean annual temperatures (MAT), the mean temperatures of the coldest (MTC) and warmest (MTW) months, and mean annual precipitation (MAP) estimations for each sub-level, and their change can be studied throughout the sequence. Results from the squamate and amphibian study indicate that during hominin occupation the MAT (10-13 degrees C) was always slightly warmer than at present in the vicinity of the Gran Dolina Cave, and the MAP (800-1000mm) was greater than today in the Burgos area. Climatic differences between "glacial" and "interglacial" phases are poorly marked. Summer temperatures (MTW) show stronger oscillations than winter temperatures (MTC), but seasonality remains almost unchanged throughout the sequence. These results are compared with those for large mammals, small mammals, and pollen analysis, giving a scenario for the palaeoclimatic conditions that occurred during the early to middle Pleistocene in Atapuerca, and hence a scenario for the hominins that once lived in the Sierra de Atapuerca.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Climate
  • Ecosystem
  • Fossils
  • Geologic Sediments
  • Reptiles / physiology*
  • Spain
  • Time Factors