Professor Belmaker: Cultural history of PaleoAsia

Miriam Belmaker has been invited to present her research in the second conference of the Cultural History of PaleoAsia. The four-year project “Cultural History of PaleoAsia: Integrative Research on the Formative Processes of Modern Human Cultures in Asia” was launched in July 2016 with support from a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan.

The workshop with seven invited talks will be held at Nagoya University, funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

Belmaker will discuss her recent research in climate change during the last glacial period (160,000 – 40,000 years ago) and its effect on Neanderthal extinction in the region.

The extinction of Neanderthals in the Southern Levant has been attributed to loss of productivity that occurred 50,000 years ago in the Near East called the Heinrich 5 (H5) event. Evidence for a decline in temperatures and precipitation is evident stable isotope analyses.

However, it is unclear if the climatic fluctuations were severe enough to cause an appreciable shift in vegetation types and habitats and to have had an effect on Neanderthal demographics.

However, the distribution of several species of rodents and ungulates highly indicative of the environment do not support the idea that climate change was severe at all. Many species are present during periods of presumed cold temperatures as well as warm ones. Furthermore, paleodietary studies have shown that ungulates have not changed their diet pre and post the H5 event.

This suggests that despite evidence for climate change ca. 50,000 years ago, this change in precipitation and temperatures was not strong enough to evoke a change in the faunal community of the region. Thus, climate change apparently was not the sole reason Neanderthals became extinct, and alternative hypotheses need to be considered. Such factors may include interspecies competition with incoming modern humans and/or overpopulation.