EGU2020-140, updated on 12 Jun 2020
EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

A long continuous palaeoclimate-palaeoenvironmental record of the last glacial period from southern Italy and implications for the coexistence of Anatomically Modern Humans and Neanderthals

Andrea Columbu1, Veronica Chiarini1, Christoph Spötl2, Jo De Waele1, Stefano Benazzi3,4, John Hellstrom5, and Hai Cheng6
Andrea Columbu et al.
  • 1University of Bologna, Biological Geological and Environmental Sciences, Bologna, Italy (
  • 2University of Innsbruck (Austria), Institute of Geology
  • 3University of Bologna (Italy), Department of Cultural Heritage
  • 4Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Germany), Department of Human Evolution
  • 5University of Melbourne (Australia), School of Earth Sciences
  • 6Xi'an Jiaotong University (China),
Institute of Global Environmental Change

Western Mediterranean speleothem palaeoclimate records covering the entire Last Glacial period are extremely rare and discontinuous, because the progressive aridity and temperature decrease inhibited continuous carbonate deposition (Budsky et al., 2019; Perez-Mejias et al., 2019). This lack of high-resolution archives impedes a better understanding of key issues regarding the Late Quaternary, such as: 1) The spatio-temporal teleconnection between the northern latitudes and the Western Mediterranean area during the expansion/contraction of ice sheets related to DO cyclicity and AMOC changes; and 2) the palaeoclimate and palaeoenvironmental conditions during the scarcely known MIS 3, when the first Anatomically Modern Humans arrived on the Italian peninsula about 45.5 ka (Benazzi et al., 2011), sharing the territory with the already settled Neanderthals until the disappearance of the latter around 42 ka.

We present a well-dated continuous stalagmite record from Pozzo Cucù cave (southern Italy, Apulia) spanning from 106.0 +2.8/-2.7 to 26.6 +0.8/-0.9 ka, with an average uncertainty of less than 1 ka. The age model is based on 27 U-Th dates and about 2600 δ18O and δ13C analyses were performed at an average resolution of about 40 years. δ18O and δ13C are interpreted as rainfall and soil bioproductivity indicators, respectively, although moisture source possibly had a role in modulating δ18O. The δ18O-δ13C timeseries is the first western Mediterranean speleothem record duplicating the Greenland ice core record (NGRIP) for MIS 5 to 3, and showing a striking resemblance for most of the DO cycles, especially from DO 22 to DO 16 and from DO 11 to DO 4. Discrepancies exist too, especially during the early MIS 3. Interestingly, the speleothem does not show evidence of many of the most severe climate events affecting the northern latitudes (e.g. Heinrich events). This calls for a re-evaluation of the role of the northern high latitudes in triggering major cooling/drying events across the Mediterranean region.

The oldest remains of Anatomically Modern Humans in Europe were found in Apulia (about 45.5 ka), and Neanderthals are known to have existed there at least until 42 ka. Thus, our new record provides a palaeoclimate-palaeoenvironmental background for the arrival of Anatomically Modern Humans in southern Europe, their coexistence with the Neanderthals, and the disappearance of the latter, which marks one of the most important biocultural transitions in human history (Wolf et al., 2018).




Benazzi S et al., 2011. Early dispersal of modern humans in Europe and implications for Neanderthal behavior. Nature


Budsky A et al., 2019. Western Mediterranean climate response to Dansgaard/Oeschger Events: New Insights From Speleothem Records. GRL


Pérez-Mejías C et al., 2019. Orbital-to-millennial scale climate variability during Marine Isotope Stages 5 to 3 in northeast Iberia. QSR


Wolf D et al., 2018. Climate deteriorations and Neanderthal demise in interior Iberia. SR

How to cite: Columbu, A., Chiarini, V., Spötl, C., De Waele, J., Benazzi, S., Hellstrom, J., and Cheng, H.: A long continuous palaeoclimate-palaeoenvironmental record of the last glacial period from southern Italy and implications for the coexistence of Anatomically Modern Humans and Neanderthals, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-140,, 2019


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  • CC1: Comment on EGU2020-140, Ana Moreno, 04 May 2020

    Spectacular record, Andreas!! Just a short question... Do you have any interpretation for the lack of HE4 and HE5 signal in your record? I am curious because in marine records from Western Mediterranean HE4 is specially strong. You are right that this  signal is also lacking in other terrestrial records... but I don't have a clear explanation. 

    • AC1: Reply to CC1, Andrea Columbu, 04 May 2020

      Dear Ana, thanks a lot. Well, I am still trying to undertand this.

      I believe that there is something that, in region similar to Apulia (i.e. encironmental niche), makes the effects of H4-like events milder/negligible. But it is intruiguing. One sure thing is that last glacial climate was not so uniform all around the Mediterranean basin! I will try to respond to your question with my next studies.


      Thanks, Andrea