Germany was covered by glaciers 450,000 years ago

Related Articles

Related Articles

The timing of the Middle Pleistocene glacial-interglacial cycles and the feedback mechanisms between climatic shifts and earth-surface processes are still poorly understood.

This is largely due to the fact that chronological data of sediment archives representing periglacial, but also potentially warmer climate periods, are very sparse until now.

“The Quaternary sediments in central Germany are perfect archives to understand the climate shifts that occurred in the region during the last 450,000 years”, says co-author Tobias Lauer, a geochronologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. “This is because all sediments representing the ice advances and retreats of Scandinavian glaciers into Europe are preserved here.” The sediments in the region, and especially in the area around the city Leipzig, are extremely well documented due to tens of thousands of drillings over the past few decades and open pits related to brown-coal mining.

 

Especially relevant are the river deposits of local rivers like the Weisse Elster and the Saale, which are preserved between the moraines of the so-called “Elsterian” and “Saalian” ice advances. “Especially the timing of the first major glaciation has been highly debated within the scientific community during the last few decades”, says Lauer. “By dating the river deposits systematically we found that the first ice coverage of central Germany during the Elsterian glaciation (named after the river Elster) occurred during marine isotope stage 12, likely about 450,000 years ago, which is 100,000 years earlier than previously thought.” To obtain these dates the researchers used luminescence dating, a technology that determines how long ago mineral grains were last exposed to sunlight or heat.

Tools from the Paleolithic

The river deposits also contain Lower- and Middle Paleolithic stone artefacts yielding important information on early human dispersal in central Europe. “The first traces of human Lower Paleolithic occupation in the area date back to about 400,000 years and are connected most probably to the interglacial period following the first major glaciation”, says co-author Marcel Weiss, an archeologist at the Leipzig Max Planck Institute. “These traces are evidenced by more than 6,000 Lower Paleolithic stone artefacts that had been recovered from the gravel pits of Wallendorf and Schladebach in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.”

Middle Paleolithic stone artefacts from the same region are correlated with river deposits dated between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago and are associated with Neanderthals. The Pleistocene river gravel deposits from the top of the sequence in the former brown-coal mine Zwenkau, which is located south of Leipzig in Saxony, yielded the oldest Middle Paleolithic artefacts. This artefact inventory, the stone tool assemblage of “Eythra”, is known for its numerous handaxes and dates back to about 280,000 years ago.

The youngest sediments from which the researchers obtained the new dates belong to the so-called Saalian glaciation (named after the river Saale). The southernmost ice advance of Scandinavian glaciers into Central Germany occurred about 150,000 years ago.

Impact on future research

“Our dates will have a major impact on the understanding of the timing of glacial cycles and climatic shifts of ice-age Europe”, say the authors. “The first major glaciation had a huge impact on the environment and re-modeled the entire landscape. The newly determined ages of the Lower and Middle Paleolithic artefacts will help us in the future to reconstruct the ways in which humans populated or re-populated central Germany and central Europe following this major climatic impact.”

The new data will also enable scientists to look further into questions regarding the ways humans adapted and reacted to the climatic shifts between cold glacials and warm interglacials during the Middle Pleistocene between roughly 450.000 to 150.000 years ago.

MAX PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR EVOLUTIONARY ANTHROPOLOGY

Header Image: This boulder in the gravel pit Rehbach in Saxony, Germany, was transported from Scandinavia by glaciers 450,000 years ago. CREDIT MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

The Modhera Sun Temple

The Sun Temple is an ancient Hindu temple complex located on a latitude of 23.6° (near Tropic of Cancer) on the banks of the Pushpavati river at Modhera in Gujarat, India.

Scientists Hunt For Lost WW2 Bunkers Designed to Hold Off Invasion

New research published by scientists from Keele, Staffordshire and London South Bank Universities, has unveiled extraordinary new insights into a forgotten band of secret fighters created to slow down potential invaders during World War Two.

Sea Ice Triggered the Little Ice Age

A new study finds a trigger for the Little Ice Age that cooled Europe from the 1300s through mid-1800s, and supports surprising model results suggesting that under the right conditions sudden climate changes can occur spontaneously, without external forcing.

The Two Fanjingshan Temples

Fanjingshan Temple is actually two temples, located on the “Red Clouds Golden Summit or Golden Peak” on Fanjingshan Mountain (also known as Mount Fanjing), the highest point of the Wuling Mountains in southwestern China.

Venus’ Ancient Layered, Folded Rocks Point to Volcanic Origin

An international team of researchers has found that some of the oldest terrain on Venus, known as tesserae, have layering that seems consistent with volcanic activity. The finding could provide insights into the enigmatic planet's geological history.

Undersea Earthquakes Shake up Climate Science

Despite climate change being most obvious to people as unseasonably warm winter days or melting glaciers, as much as 95 percent of the extra heat trapped on Earth by greenhouse gases is held in the world's oceans.

Raids and Bloody Rituals Among Ancient Steppe Nomads

Ancient historiographers described steppe nomads as violent people dedicated to warfare and plundering.

Ancient Human Footprints in Saudi Arabia Give Glimpse of Arabian Ecology 120000 Years Ago

Situated between Africa and Eurasia, the Arabian Peninsula is an important yet understudied region for understanding human evolution across the continents.

Popular stories

The Secret Hellfire Club and the Hellfire Caves

The Hellfire Club was an exclusive membership-based organisation for high-society rakes, that was first founded in London in 1718, by Philip, Duke of Wharton, and several of society's elites.

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.