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Concept: Last Glacial Maximum


Little is known about the ice age human occupation of the Pacific Coast of Canada. Here we present the results of a targeted investigation of a late Pleistocene shoreline on Calvert Island, British Columbia. Drawing upon existing geomorphic information that sea level in the area was 2-3 m lower than present between 14,000 and 11,000 years ago, we began a systematic search for archaeological remains dating to this time period beneath intertidal beach sediments. During subsurface testing, we uncovered human footprints impressed into a 13,000-year-old paleosol beneath beach sands at archaeological site EjTa-4. To date, our investigations at this site have revealed a total of 29 footprints of at least three different sizes. The results presented here add to the growing body of information pertaining to the early deglaciation and associated human presence on the west coast of Canada at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum.

Concepts: Earth, Pleistocene, Last Glacial Maximum, Ice age, Last glacial period, Archaeology, Glaciology, Glacial period


Hunter-gatherers living in Europe during the transition from the late Pleistocene to the Holocene intensified food acquisition by broadening the range of resources exploited to include marine taxa. However, little is known on the nature of this dietary change in the Mediterranean Basin. A key area to investigate this issue is the archipelago of the Ègadi Islands, most of which were connected to Sicily until the early Holocene. The site of Grotta d'Oriente, on the present-day island of Favignana, was occupied by hunter-gatherers when Postglacial environmental changes were taking place (14,000-7,500 cal BP). Here we present the results of AMS radiocarbon dating, palaeogenetic and isotopic analyses undertaken on skeletal remains of the humans buried at Grotta d'Oriente. Analyses of the mitochondrial hypervariable first region of individual Oriente B, which belongs to the HV-1 haplogroup, suggest for the first time on genetic grounds that humans living in Sicily during the early Holocene could have originated from groups that migrated from the Italian Peninsula around the Last Glacial Maximum. Carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses show that the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of Favignana consumed almost exclusively protein from terrestrial game and that there was only a slight increase in marine food consumption from the late Pleistocene to the early Holocene. This dietary change was similar in scale to that at sites on mainland Sicily and in the rest of the Mediterranean, suggesting that the hunter-gatherers of Grotta d'Oriente did not modify their subsistence strategies specifically to adapt to the progressive isolation of Favignana. The limited development of technologies for intensively exploiting marine resources was probably a consequence both of Mediterranean oligotrophy and of the small effective population size of these increasingly isolated human groups, which made innovation less likely and prevented transmission of fitness-enhancing adaptations.

Concepts: Human, Mediterranean Sea, Isotope, Pleistocene, Paleolithic, Holocene, Last Glacial Maximum, Stone Age


Although Siberia was inhabited by modern humans at an early stage, there is still debate over whether it remained habitable during the extreme cold of the Last Glacial Maximum or whether it was subsequently repopulated by peoples with recent shared ancestry. Previous studies of the genetic history of Siberian populations were hampered by the extensive admixture that appears to have taken place among these populations, since commonly used methods assume a tree-like population history and at most single admixture events. Here we analyze geogenetic maps and use other approaches to distinguish the effects of shared ancestry from prehistoric migrations and contact, and develop a new method based on the covariance of ancestry components, to investigate the potentially complex admixture history. We furthermore adapt a previously devised method of admixture dating for use with multiple events of gene flow, and apply these methods to whole-genome genotype data from over 500 individuals belonging to 20 different Siberian ethnolinguistic groups. The results of these analyses indicate that there have been multiple layers of admixture detectable in most of the Siberian populations, with considerable differences in the admixture histories of individual populations. Furthermore, most of the populations of Siberia included here, even those settled far to the north, appear to have a southern origin, with the northward expansions of different populations possibly being driven partly by the advent of pastoralism, especially reindeer domestication. These newly developed methods to analyse multiple admixture events should aid in the investigation of similarly complex population histories elsewhere.

Concepts: Human, Human migration, Pleistocene, Last Glacial Maximum, Last glacial period, Glacial period, Reindeer, Siberia


Coralgal reefs preserve the signatures of sea-level fluctuations over Earth’s history, in particular since the Last Glacial Maximum 20,000 years ago, and are used in this study to indicate that punctuated sea-level rise events are more common than previously observed during the last deglaciation. Recognizing the nature of past sea-level rises (i.e., gradual or stepwise) during deglaciation is critical for informing models that predict future vertical behavior of global oceans. Here we present high-resolution bathymetric and seismic sonar data sets of 10 morphologically similar drowned reefs that grew during the last deglaciation and spread 120 km apart along the south Texas shelf edge. Herein, six commonly observed terrace levels are interpreted to be generated by several punctuated sea-level rise events forcing the reefs to shrink and backstep through time. These systematic and common terraces are interpreted to record punctuated sea-level rise events over timescales of decades to centuries during the last deglaciation, previously recognized only during the late Holocene.

Concepts: Water, Oceanography, Future, Nature, Last Glacial Maximum, Ice age, Last glacial period, Glacial period


Reconstructions of the vegetation of Europe during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) are an enigma. Pollen-based analyses have suggested that Europe was largely covered by steppe and tundra, and forests persisted only in small refugia. Climate-vegetation model simulations on the other hand have consistently suggested that broad areas of Europe would have been suitable for forest, even in the depths of the last glaciation. Here we reconcile models with data by demonstrating that the highly mobile groups of hunter-gatherers that inhabited Europe at the LGM could have substantially reduced forest cover through the ignition of wildfires. Similar to hunter-gatherers of the more recent past, Upper Paleolithic humans were masters of the use of fire, and preferred inhabiting semi-open landscapes to facilitate foraging, hunting and travel. Incorporating human agency into a dynamic vegetation-fire model and simulating forest cover shows that even small increases in wildfire frequency over natural background levels resulted in large changes in the forested area of Europe, in part because trees were already stressed by low atmospheric CO2 concentrations and the cold, dry, and highly variable climate. Our results suggest that the impact of humans on the glacial landscape of Europe may be one of the earliest large-scale anthropogenic modifications of the earth system.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Earth, Pleistocene, Paleolithic, Last Glacial Maximum, Ice age, Last glacial period, Glacial period


Human populations, along with those of many other species, are thought to have contracted into a number of refuge areas at the height of the last Ice Age. European populations are believed to be, to a large extent, the descendants of the inhabitants of these refugia, and some extant mtDNA lineages can be traced to refugia in Franco-Cantabria (haplogroups H1, H3, V, and U5b1), the Italian Peninsula (U5b3), and the East European Plain (U4 and U5a). Parts of the Near East, such as the Levant, were also continuously inhabited throughout the Last Glacial Maximum, but unlike western and eastern Europe, no archaeological or genetic evidence for Late Glacial expansions into Europe from the Near East has hitherto been discovered. Here we report, on the basis of an enlarged whole-genome mitochondrial database, that a substantial, perhaps predominant, signal from mitochondrial haplogroups J and T, previously thought to have spread primarily from the Near East into Europe with the Neolithic population, may in fact reflect dispersals during the Late Glacial period, ∼19-12 thousand years (ka) ago.

Concepts: Europe, Western Asia, Pleistocene, Last Glacial Maximum, Ice age, Last glacial period, Glaciology, Glacial period


Migratory behavior in birds is evolutionarily plastic, but it is unclear how this behavior responded during glacial cycles. One view is that at glacial maxima, species simply shifted their breeding ranges south of glacial ice and remained migratory. To test this hypothesis, we constructed ecological niche models for breeding and wintering ranges of 56 species, finding that 70% of currently long-distance North American migrant species likely lacked suitable breeding habitat in North America at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), and we hypothesized that they reverted to the ancestral state of being tropical sedentary residents. A smaller percentage of short-distance migrants (27%) experienced altered migratory behavior at the LGM, although the ranges of all species were shifted southward, as traditionally envisioned. We suggest that many species oscillate between sedentary and migratory strategies with each glacial cycle acting as an adaptive switch. Thus, range shifts occur more frequently than speciation events and are inadequately depicted by phylogenetic reconstructions. We suggest that reconstructing the evolutionary history of traits, such as migratory behavior, is best served by using ranges at glacial maxima. A phylogeny of warblers strongly predicted LGM, but not present distributions, and suggested that migration was re-expressed from three tropical centers of warbler diversity. Understanding of evolutionary history will be improved when reconstructions use distributions relevant to the time of character transitions.

Concepts: Evolution, Phylogenetic tree, Pleistocene, Last Glacial Maximum, Ice age, Last glacial period, Glacial period, Timeline of glaciation


We provide a model for the genesis of Holocene coralligenous buildups occurring in the northwestern Adriatic Sea offshore Venice at 17-24 m depth. High-resolution geophysical surveys and underwater SCUBA diving reconnaissance revealed meandering shaped morphologies underneath bio-concretionned rocky buildups. These morphologies are inferred to have been inherited from Pleistocene fluvial systems reactivated as tidal channels during the post- Last Glacial Maximum transgression, when the study area was a lagoon protected by a sandy barrier. The lithification of the sandy fossil channel-levee systems is estimated to have occurred at ca. 7 cal. ka BP, likely due to the interaction between marine and less saline fluids related to onshore freshwater discharge at sea through a sealed water-table. The carbonate-cemented sandy layers served as nucleus for subsequent coralligenous buildups growth.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Italy, Pleistocene, Last Glacial Maximum, Ice age, Last glacial period, Venice, Scuba diving


The survival of isolated small populations is threatened by both demographic and genetic factors. Large carnivores declined for centuries in most of Europe due to habitat changes, overhunting of their natural prey and direct persecution. However, the current rewilding trends are driving many carnivore populations to expand again, possibly reverting the erosion of their genetic diversity. In this study we reassessed the extent and origin of the genetic variation of the Italian wolf population, which is expanding after centuries of decline and isolation. We genotyped wolves from Italy and other nine populations at four mtDNA regions (control-region, ATP6, COIII and ND4) and 39 autosomal microsatellites. Results of phylogenetic analyses and assignment procedures confirmed in the Italian wolves a second private mtDNA haplotype, which belongs to a haplogroup distributed mostly in southern Europe. Coalescent analyses showed that the unique mtDNA haplotypes in the Italian wolves likely originated during the late Pleistocene. ABC simulations concordantly showed that the extant wolf populations in Italy and in south-western Europe started to be isolated and declined right after the last glacial maximum. Thus, the standing genetic variation in the Italian wolves principally results from the historical isolation south of the Alps.

Concepts: Genetics, Population genetics, Pleistocene, Last Glacial Maximum, Ice age, Last glacial period, Haplogroup, Wolves


The major cause of sea-level change during ice ages is the exchange of water between ice and ocean and the planet’s dynamic response to the changing surface load. Inversion of ∼1,000 observations for the past 35,000 y from localities far from former ice margins has provided new constraints on the fluctuation of ice volume in this interval. Key results are: (i) a rapid final fall in global sea level of ∼40 m in <2,000 y at the onset of the glacial maximum ∼30,000 y before present (30 ka BP); (ii) a slow fall to -134 m from 29 to 21 ka BP with a maximum grounded ice volume of ∼52 × 10(6) km(3) greater than today; (iii) after an initial short duration rapid rise and a short interval of near-constant sea level, the main phase of deglaciation occurred from ∼16.5 ka BP to ∼8.2 ka BP at an average rate of rise of 12 m⋅ka(-1) punctuated by periods of greater, particularly at 14.5-14.0 ka BP at ≥40 mm⋅y(-1) (MWP-1A), and lesser, from 12.5 to 11.5 ka BP (Younger Dryas), rates; (iv) no evidence for a global MWP-1B event at ∼11.3 ka BP; and (v) a progressive decrease in the rate of rise from 8.2 ka to ∼2.5 ka BP, after which ocean volumes remained nearly constant until the renewed sea-level rise at 100-150 y ago, with no evidence of oscillations exceeding ∼15-20 cm in time intervals ≥200 y from 6 to 0.15 ka BP.

Concepts: Water, Sea level, Oceanography, Pleistocene, Last Glacial Maximum, Ice age, Last glacial period, Glaciology