Hominin responses to environmental changes during the Middle Pleistocene in central and southern Italy
Abstract. The palaeobotanical record of early Palaeolithic sites from Western Europe indicates that hominins settled in different kinds of environments. During the "mid-Pleistocene transition (MPT)", from about 1 to 0.6 Ma, the transition from 41- to 100-ka dominant climatic oscillations, occurring within a long-term cooling trend, was associated with an aridity crisis which strongly modified the ecosystems.
Starting from the MPT the more favourable climate of central and southern Italy provided propitious environmental conditions for long-term human occupations even during the glacial times. In fact, the human strategy of territory occupation was certainly driven by the availabilities of resources. Prehistoric sites such as Notarchirico (ca. 680–600 ka), La Pineta (ca. 600–620 ka), Guado San Nicola (ca. 380–350 ka) or Ceprano (ca. 345–355 ka) testify to a preferential occupation of the central and southern Apennines valleys during interglacial phases, while later interglacial occupations were oriented towards the coastal plains, as attested by the numerous settlements of the Roma Basin (ca. 300 ka). Faunal remains indicate that human subsistence behaviours benefited from a diversity of exploitable ecosystems, from semi-open to closed environments. In central and southern Italy, several palynological records have already illustrated the regional- and local-scale vegetation dynamic trends. During the Middle Pleistocene climate cycles, mixed mesophytic forests developed during the interglacial periods and withdrew in response to increasing aridity during the glacial episodes. New pollen data from the Boiano Basin (Molise, Italy) attest to the evolution of vegetation and climate between MIS 13 and 9 (ca. 500 to 300 ka). In this basin the persistence of high edaphic humidity, even during the glacial phases, could have favoured the establishment of a refuge area for the arboreal flora and provided subsistence resources for the animal and hominin communities during the Middle Pleistocene. This could have constrained human groups to migrate into such a propitious area. Regarding the local climate evolution during the glacial episodes, the supposed displacement from these sites could be linked to the environmental dynamics solely due to the aridity increase, rather than directly to the global climate changes.