Prehistoric Humans Survived Major Natural Disasters by Cooperating

An archeological dig in Italy reveals that prehistoric humans made it through a major natural disaster by cooperating with each other. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Trade and social networking helped our Homo sapiens prehistoric humans survive a climate-changing volcanic eruption 40,000 years ago, giving hope that we will be able to ride out global warming by staying interconnected, a new study suggests.

Analyzing ancient tools and ornaments from a prehistoric rock shelter called Riparo Bombrini, in Liguria on the Italian Riviera, archaeologists at Université de Montréal and the University of Genoa conclude that the key to survival is cooperation.

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Their study was published in early April in the Journal of Quaternary Science. Julien Riel-Salvatore, a professor of archaeology at UdeM who co-authored the study with his Italian colleague Fabio Negrino, said:

Homo sapiens had been living in the region for over 1,000 years when a “super-eruption” in the Phlegraean Fields in southern Italy, west of present-day Naples, devastated much of Europe.

In their work, the archaeologists gathered tool fragments such as bladelets — small regular flakes knocked off larger stone cores to use as barbs and slicing components of weapons for hunting — that showed the ingenuity of our early ancestors.

Some of the flint they used was brought in from hundreds of kilometers away, indicating a very extensive social and trading network that helped them survive for the next 4,000 years.

Riel-Salvatore, whose evidence to show that Homo sapiens occupied the site also includes a child’s tooth, as well as shell and soft stone ornaments, said:

His study echoes other revisions of the impact of an even older prehistoric volcanic super-eruption, that of Mount Toba on the Indonesian island of Sumatra 74,000 years ago that was once thought to have come close to wiping out humanity entirely, a theory now seriously challenged by recent evidence.

In both cases, archaeology has shown that evolution isn’t always as dramatic as we think, Riel-Salvatore said in a statement:

The bulk of the data the researchers gathered for their study was excavated between 2002 and 2005 from Riparo Bombrini, a part of the Balzi Rossi archaeological complex of Paleolithic caves that were first probed in 1938 and where excavations began in 1976.

Over the next three years, Riel-Salvatore and Negrino will continue excavations at the site to delve further into why the Neanderthal population there disappeared and was replaced by the better-equipped — and better-connected — Homo sapiens.

Provided by: University of Montreal [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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