Ancient Americans took cold snap in their stride

April 12, 2010

Paleoindian groups* occupied North America throughout the Younger Dryas interval, which saw a rapid return to glacial conditions approximately 11,000 years ago. Until now, it has been assumed that cooling temperatures and their impact on communities posed significant adaptive challenges to those groups.

David Meltzer from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, USA, and Vance Holliday from the University of Arizona in Tucson, USA, suggest otherwise in their review of climatic and environmental records from this time period in continental North America, published in Springer's Journal of World Prehistory.

From their analysis, they conclude that on the Great Plains and in the , conditions were in reality less extreme and therefore may not have measurably added to the challenge routinely faced by Paleoindian groups, who during this interval, successfully dispersed across the diverse habitats of Late Glacial North America.

Meltzer and Holliday question whether the impact of cooling on Pleistocene North Americans was actually that pronounced or widespread and, if it was, whether it was similarly abrupt and severe, and in the same direction, across North America. Their comprehensive review of the climate and environment of North America during that time and its possible impact suggests that the Young Dryas age cooling was not as sudden, extensive, or severe as has previously been suggested and the notion that these conditions may have taken the Paleoindians by surprise is questionable.

The authors conclude: "All things considered, it is likely that across most of North America, south of the retreating ice sheets, Paleoindians were not constantly scrambling to keep up with Younger Dryas age climate changes. After all, adapting to changing climatic and environmental conditions was nothing new to them - it was what they did."

Note: * the first people to enter and subsequently inhabit the American continent during the final glacial episodes of the Pleistocene period

Explore further: Study suggests Alaskan tree refuge existed

More information: Meltzer DJ & Holliday VT (2010). Would North American Paleoindians Have Noticed Younger Dryas Age Climate Changes? Journal of World Prehistory; DOI:10.1007/s10963-009-9032-4

Related Stories

Comet impact theory disproved

January 26, 2009

New data, published today, disproves the recent theory that a large comet exploded over North America 12,900 years ago, causing a shock wave that travelled across North America at hundreds of kilometres per hour and triggering ...

Charcoal evidence tracks climate changes in Younger Dryas

January 28, 2009

A new study reports that charcoal particles left by wildfires in sediments of 35 North American lake beds don't readily support the theory that comets exploding over the continent 12,900 years ago sparked a cooling period ...

Ice sheet melt identified as trigger of Big Freeze

March 31, 2010

The main cause of a rapid global cooling period, known as the Big Freeze or Younger Dryas - which occurred nearly 13,000 years ago - has been identified thanks to the help of an academic at the University of Sheffield.

Recommended for you

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Rare braincase provides insight into dinosaur brain

October 8, 2015

Experts have described one of the most complete sauropod dinosaur braincases ever found in Europe. The find could help scientists uncover some of the mysteries of how dinosaur brains operated, including their intellectual ...

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Apr 13, 2010
Since the temperature changed over hundreds of years, even the slowest native could probably stay ahead of the event. This will not be the case for the global warming fanatics. Even with a sea level rise of two inches a year, they will be distracted by their hysterical wailing, caught by surprise and drown. The Earth Abides.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.