A Prehistory of the North: Human Settlement of the Higher Latitudes

A Prehistory of the North: Human Settlement of the Higher Latitudes

A Prehistory of the North: Human Settlement of the Higher Latitudes

A Prehistory of the North: Human Settlement of the Higher Latitudes

Synopsis

Early humans did not drift north from Africa as their ability to cope with cooler climates evolved. Settlement of Europe and northern Asia occurred in relatively rapid bursts of expansion. This study tells the complex story, spanning almost two million years, of how humans inhabited some of the coldest places on earth.

Excerpt

The stereotypes of the Cro-Magnons have long been with us—reindeer hunters, cave dwellers, and consummate artists—people who adapted brilliantly to the harsh environmental realities of the late Ice Age world 18,000 years ago. Cro-Magnons were indeed expert cold-weather hunter-gatherers, but their success is only part of a much larger and, until recently, littleknown story. Prehistory of the North explores human adaptations to the colder latitudes of the world on a much broader canvas, and in so doing fills a huge gap in our knowledge of human history.

John Hoffecker paints a broad-brushed picture, based in part on his own researches, also on an encyclopedic knowledge of a huge specialist literature culled from obscure journals and monographs in many languages. He ranges from human origins in tropical Africa to the spread of archaic and modern humanity into middle latitudes to Norse voyages to Greenland and beyond. He explores the first colonization of Europe and Eurasia— the limited success of archaic humans like the Neanderthals, then the conquest of the great Eurasian steppe-tundra by Homo sapiens sapiens. This is a book about adapting to environments with extremes of seasonal temperatures and low productivity, about arctic deserts that suck in and expel their human inhabitants. The issues are myriad—physical and behavioral adaptations to cold environments, diets high in fat and protein from game animals, and the need for adequate shelter in subzero winters to mention only a few. By deploying evidence from numerous scientific disciplines, Hoffecker describes the compelling reasons why archaic humans never settled year-round in the world's most demanding environments.

These colder regions, all in the Northern Hemisphere, were beyond the Neanderthals and their contemporaries, who settled in such areas as southwestern Siberia but never established permanent hunting territories on the open plains to the north. These inhospitable latitudes were the provinces of modern humans, who spread into late Ice Age Europe and rapidly across the steppe-tundra after 45,000 years ago. With fully developed cognitive abilities, sophisticated linguistic skills, and an ability to plan ahead, to conceptualize their world, Homo sapiens sapiens soon mastered the north. Highly mobile, armed with a very sophisticated technology that included the eyed needle and the layered, tailored clothing made possible by it, our Ice Age ancestors had colonized much of Eurasia by 25,000 years ago, before the last cold snap of the Weichsel glaciation that climaxed 18,000 years ago. Hoffecker marshals what little we know about the earliest inhabitants of the . . .

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