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Testing population hiatuses in the Late Pleistocene of Central Iberia: a geoarchaeological approach

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Did they stay or did they go – population hiatuses in the Late Pleistocene

For many years, scientists have assumed that a population hiatus occurred in Central Iberia during the last glaciation due to harsh environmental and climatic conditions in the upland areas of the Spanish plateau. Following research in the region, an EU-funded team of scientists reappraised this belief.

Climate Change and Environment

The project HIATUS LPLEIS IBERIA (Testing population hiatuses in the Late Pleistocene of Central Iberia: a geoarchaeological approach) investigated the interaction between ancient humans and their environment about 60 000 to 20 000 years ago. According to established models, permanent human settlement of the region would only have been possible at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum after the retreat of the ice. However, this theory is now under question following recent data from the southeast foothills of the Iberian Central Range mountains. Project partners believed that new field work would show that traditional models were biased by a lack of research in interior Iberia, compared to the coastal regions of the peninsula. They therefore carried out field and laboratory studies at three paleolithic sites located in the northwest of the Spanish province of Guadalajara. This involved the use of interdisciplinary techniques such as high resolution geoarchaeology, lithic technology and chronometric dating. Results showed that the three sites contain mostly in-situ geoarchaeological deposits and they recorded the presence of Neanderthal and modern human occupation. Pollen, charcoal, micromammal (such as mice) and phytolith evidence provided an invaluable record for the environmental and climatic study of the area. In addition, palynological and microfaunal analyses resulted in particularly accurate markers of possible ecological refugia, while remains of animals and stone artefacts revealed interesting subsistence strategies. Researchers also discovered the use of deep caves by Neanderthals for specific activities, and the presence of specialised quartz production. HIATUS LPLEIS IBERIA increased knowledge of population dynamics and human-environmental interactions in Central Iberia during the Late Pleistocene period. Ground breaking results included the reassessment of the belief that the region was unpopulated during Late Pleniglacial times and the late Neanderthal survival south of the Ebro basin.


Population hiatus, Central Iberia, HIATUS LPLEIS IBERIA, Last Glacial Maximum, Neanderthal

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