Pleistocene of Northern Spain showing woolly mammoth, cave lions eating a reindeer, tarpans, and woolly rhinoceros.

New Study says early humans migrated into Europe due to warming climate

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Rising temperatures approximately 1.4 million years ago might have assisted the migration of hominins out of Africa and into Europe, a new study suggests.

Dr. Jordi Agustí and colleagues have published a study in the Journal of Human Evolution that argues that prehistoric climate change affected the location and amount of resources available to our early ancestors. These early humans are thought to have benefited from shifting climate patterns, as the warming environment facilitated migration and access to food.

Model of adult female Homo erectus, one of the first truly human ancestors of modern man.

Model of adult female Homo erectus, one of the first truly human ancestors of modern man. Wikimedia Commons

Agustí, research professor of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), finds that the spread of hominins was halted by colder temperatures and glacial cycles during the early Pleistocene era. There is a lack of evidence of human presence in Europe during this epoch.

However, archaeological finds from Spain suggest that once the climate conditions became favorable, early humanity was able to migrate.


Evidence for the oldest hominin found in Western Europe is a tooth and stone tools. The tools were excavated in 1993 at the Barranco León site in the Guadix-Baza Basin of southeastern Spain. The Oldowan-styled stone tools date back to 1.4 million years ago, reports Popular Archaeology .

The stone tools are thought to have been used on herbivore mammals, as well as bodies scavenged after carnivore predators were finished with them. These traces of early human hunting and habitation indicate a migration of hominins out of Africa and into a vastly different landscape.

Through analysis of microvertebrate in deposits at the Barranco León site, researchers were able to determine the mean annual temperature of the nearby ancient lake. They found the period was characterized by warm temperatures and high humidity. This climate record corresponds to the stone tool and artifact timeline .

Researchers excavate the site at Barranco León.

Researchers excavate the site at Barranco León. Screenshot via Excavación en Barranco Leon en Orce

ZeeNews reports, “The researchers said the early Pleistocene era (the era lasted from 2.59 million to 11,700 years ago) was characterised by colder and drier weather. ‘This possibly impeded the settlement of this region by the early hominin population from the southern Caucasus’. […]But shortly afterwards, ‘when the climatic conditions were again favourable, a hominin presence is suddenly evidenced.”

Ultimately, the researchers conclude in the study that the data “clearly support the idea that the early hominin occupation of Europe was strongly constrained by climatic and environmental conditions, rather than by physiography or cultural factors.”


According to the findings of Dr. Agustí, the climate of millions of years ago created a vital transitional period for humanity’s ancestors. Climate seems to remain a transitional force to this day. As the climate continues to change, ancient artifacts and significant human remains resurface , bringing us more information on the prehistoric past, enabling us to understand the overarching story of humanity and our place on this planet.

Featured Image: Pleistocene of Northern Spain showing woolly mammoth, cave lions eating a reindeer, tarpans, and woolly rhinoceros. Wikimedia Commons

By Liz Leafloor     

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