Speleothem record attests to stable environmental conditions during Neanderthal–modern human turnover in southern Italy

Andrea Columbu, Veronica Chiarini, Christoph Spötl, Stefano Benazzi, John Hellstrom, Hai Cheng, Jo De Waele

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21 Scopus citations


The causes of Neanderthal–modern human (MH) turnover are ambiguous. While potential biocultural interactions between the two groups are still little known, it is clear that Neanderthals in southern Europe disappeared about 42 thousand years ago (ka) after cohabitation for ~3,000 years with MH. Among a plethora of hypotheses on Neanderthal extinction, rapid climate changes during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition (MUPT) are regarded as a primary factor. Here we show evidence for stable climatic and environmental conditions during the MUPT in a region (Apulia) where Neanderthals and MH coexisted. We base our findings on a rare glacial stalagmite deposited between ~106 and ~27 ka, providing the first continuous western Mediterranean speleothem palaeoclimate archive for this period. The uninterrupted growth of the stalagmite attests to the constant availability of rainfall and vegetated soils, while its δ13C–δ18O palaeoclimate proxies demonstrate that Apulia was not affected by dramatic climate oscillations during the MUPT. Our results imply that, because climate did not play a key role in the disappearance of Neanderthals in this area, Neanderthal–MH turnover must be approached from a perspective that takes into account climatic and environmental conditions favourable for both species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1188-1195
Number of pages8
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank all local speleologists that helped with the 2014 and 2019 fieldwork at Pozzo Cucù, Sant’Angelo, Zaccaria and Messapi caves: G. Loperfido, S. Inguscio, G. Ragone, P. Lippolis, A. Lacirignola, D. Leserri, M. Marraffa, O. Lacarbonara, F. Semeraro, S. Calella, P. Calella, C. Pastore, C. Marchitelli, R. Romanazzi, R. Cupertino, G. Caló and F. Lorusso (Gruppo Speleologico Martinese, CARS Altamura, Gruppo Speleologico Neretino, Gruppo Ricerche Carsiche Putignano, Gruppo Puglia Grotte and Gruppo Escursionistico Speleologico Ostunense), as well as the Bellanova family for access to Messapi Cave. C.A., D.W.J. and C.V. are also grateful to all members of Gruppo Speleologico Martinese for their logistic help and warm hospitality in Martina Franca. Thanks also to M. Parise (University of Bari) for help during 2014 fieldwork; A. Reina (Polytechnic University of Bari) for his enthusiasm in supporting this research; V. Casulli and R. Laragione of Castellana Grotte for their interest in supporting this study; M. Wimmer and M. Luetscher (Innsbruck University) for their help during laboratory work; L. Pisani (Bologna University) for the DEM figure used in Extended Data Fig. 1; and L. Calabrò (Bologna University) for drilling of sample SA1. C.A. is supported by Leonardo Da Vinci Grant 2019 (DD MIUR, no. 787, 15/04/2019); B.S. is supported by ERC grant no. 724046—SUCCESS (https://ERC-SUCCESS.eu), and C.H. by NSFC grant no. 41888101. This research received financial contributions from both Grotte di Castellana and Federazione Speleologica Pugliese.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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