High-resolution analysis of the Early Pleistocene regional environment before, during and after the first expansion of early Homo into Southern Spain

To judge the role of the environment on the first appearance of humans in southern Europe requires fundamental understanding of the dynamics of Early Pleistocene regional environments in this area. This project therefore aims to reconstruct the characteristics of climate and vegetation successions in Southern Spain in high-resolution and to evaluate the implications of changing environments for early Pleistocene hominin expansions into Europe.

In order to assess the possible interaction between hominine expansion and environmental dynamics, long and detailed paleoenvironmental time series are required. Now, the 107 m pilot core Palominas from Guadix-Baza-Basin revealed a unique record of paleoenvironmental change in the Orce region, SE Spain, covering the late Early Pleistocene. The core is preliminarily dated by magnetostratigraphy to the time period between Jaramillo and Olduvai subchrons and covers the time frame of the expansion of early Homo into Southern Europe. The recovered sediments provide an exceptionally well preserved and rich pollen record in the central deposits of the Baza Basin. The high sedimentation rate and detected sedimentary cyclicity allows for high resolution palynological analyses to quantify vegetation and climate change.

The Orce region is well known for its important findings of artefacts attesting the presence of early Homo between 1.3 and 1.2 Ma. Therefore, the projected analysis of climate and vegetation changes will provide direct evidence for the environment before, during and after the first expansion of early Homo into the region. The quantitative reconstruction of climate, vegetation density, regional vegetation units, and local plant communities as parameters of early human environments will support the understanding of how severe and how fast Early Pleistocene changes of the environment have been, and in which way they might have caused reasons or obstructions for early Homo to occupy Southern Europe.

The projected high-resolution pollen analysis of the available pilot core material will include the application of quantitative methods for climate and vegetation reconstructions that will enable detailed insights in the regional response of Western Mediterranean vegetation on global climate change in the course of Early Pleistocene orbital climatic cycles. Those results will strongly improve the understanding of the paleoclimatic evolution in this region. To put the results into a broader perspective, the comparison with other contemporary vegetation successions/cyclicities from Western Eurasia will provide insights in larger-scale atmospheric circulation patterns in the Mediterranean realm and their changes with orbital forcing as a basis to reconstruct larger-scale vegetation changes, which will shed light on potential corridors of early human expansions into Europe.