Late Pleistocene Climate Drivers of Early Human Migration

Nature. 2016 Oct 6;538(7623):92-95. doi: 10.1038/nature19365. Epub 2016 Sep 21.


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 episodes. 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.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Arabia
  • Archaeology
  • Climate*
  • Fossils
  • History, Ancient
  • Human Migration / history*
  • Humans
  • Islands
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Population Dynamics
  • Seawater / analysis
  • Spatio-Temporal Analysis
  • Time Factors