The essential elephant: northwest European hominin adaptations through the Middle–Late Pleistocene And Neanderthal extinction

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URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10900/114222
http://dx.doi.org/10.15496/publikation-55597
Dokumentart: Buch (einzelnes Kapitel)
Date: 2021-04-14
Language: English
Other Keywords: elephant exploitation
palaeodiet
palaeoecology
palaeoenvironment
undisturbed site
Pleistocene hominin adaptation
Neanderthal extinction
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Inhaltszusammenfassung:

This paper firstly presents the “Ebbsfleet elephant”, an instance of Middle Pleistocene elephant ex- ploitation from the southeast United Kingdom. The find is well-dated to fully interglacial condi- tions in the early temperate part of MIS 11. The as- sociation of hominin activity with the elephant re- mains is clear-cut. The elephant bones comprise the partial remains of an adult male, occurring in near- life position in one well-defined horizon. A scatter of refitting flint artifacts was found in close associa- tion, beside the rib area. Although there is no direct evidence as to how the beast died (and whether it was hunted), it seems inescapable that this find rep- resents hominin exploitation of the carcass. The find is then considered from a wider ecological perspec- tive: firstly, for the importance of elephants (and other megaherbivores) for hominin adaptations to more-seasonal environments of higher latitudes, and northward colonization during post-glacial cli- matic ameliorations as exemplified in MIS 11; and secondly for their importance for the persistence of more-northerly populations during pre-glacial climatic deterioration and cold glacial stages. It is suggested that elephant (and mammoth/rhino) exploitation may have been an important enabling factor for settlement of northern latitudes, and may have been a critical constraint upon hominin range during periods of climatic deterioration. This per- spective then leads to the conjecture that Neander- thal extinction in northwest Europe during the last ice age was fundamentally caused by the reliance by both modern humans and Neanderthals on a mammoth-niche, and by the unstainable over-ex- ploitation of this niche by the former leading to the demise of the latter.

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