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Ancient Humans Undertook Technological Innovations in the Face of Climate Change

Ancient humans living around 1.1 million years ago undertook technological innovations in present-day Asia that allowed them to cope with climate change.


A study published in the National Science Review titled “Technological innovations at the onset of the Mid-Pleistocene Climate Transition in high-latitude East Asia” describes how ancient species of humans in Asia innovated technologically to reason with climate change.

Technological Innovations in the Face of Climate Change

According to researchers, some of the first humans to populate China were already able to innovate their rudimentary technology to adapt to climate changes that occurred a million years ago. Shixia Yang and colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences examined three known archaeological sites in the Nihewan Basin in northern China to assess how hominids altered their stone toolmaking behaviors in East Asia. Stone tool comparisons between Xiaochangliang, Cenjiawan, and Donggutuo archaeological sites indicate that technological skills increased between 1.1 and 1 million years ago.

Stone tools in Cenjiawan and Donggutuo

Stone tools in Cenjiawan and Donggutuo show developing levels of control in manufacturing methods and some degree of planning in the toolmaking process to produce the desired end products. Technological innovations in the Nihewan Basin correspond to a major climate transition between 1.2 million years ago and 700,000 years ago (called the Middle Pleistocene climate transition). A series of global and regional paleoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental changes occurred during this period, such as increased aridity and monsoon strength and reduced sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic.


Disruptions in the environment

1.1 million years ago, the first human inhabitants of the Nihewan Basin lived in a shifting and unstable environment, experiencing further aridification. Because climate variability created ecological changes, including landscape disruptions and mammal extinctions, novel technological innovations likely provided advantages to early hominin populations in the Nihewan Basin,” the researchers explain in the study.

Adaptive flexibility of early hominins

“The overall evidence indicates the adaptive flexibility of early hominins to ecosystem changes since the Mid-Pleistocene Climate Transition (MPT). However, regional abandonments are also apparent in high latitudes, likely owing to cold and oscillating environmental conditions. The view presented here sharply contrasts with traditional arguments that the stone tool technologies of China were homogeneous and continuous throughout the Early Pleistocene.

Unstable environment

The unstable environmental conditions at the beginning of this period provide a good example of the adaptive versatility of hominids in China, in contrast to other archaeologists’ notion of long-term conservative behavior. However, this period’s increasingly harsh and oscillating weather conditions likely undermined the sustained population in northern China, illustrating that technological and cultural solutions did not always overcome environmental challenges.


An ancient hominid that was far more sophisticated

In an unrelated study by UC Davis, a group of researchers discovered that Neanderthals, an ancient hominid that inhabited present-day Europa and Asia until around 40,000 years ago, were far more sophisticated than people initially thought. Researchers discovered that Neanderthals were far more skilled and talented in creating tools for specific needs. Growing evidence indicates that ancient people were much more sophisticated and capable than we’ve thought initially and that some forms of tools date back further in history than initially thought. Ancient humans living around 1.1 million years ago undertook technological innovations in present-day Asia that allowed them to cope with climate change.

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Written by Justin Gurkinic

Hey, my name is Justin, and my friends call me Gurk. Why? Becuase of my last name. It sounds like a vegetable. Kind of. I love sleeping and writing. History is my thing.

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