Climate Change Influenced Early Modern Human Occupation of Moroccan Caves, Say Scientists

Study suggests prehistoric human occupation in the Témara caves of coastal Morocco fluctuated with wet and dry periods.

A central consideration related to prehistoric human settlement of coastal areas worldwide has revolved around climate change. In a paper published online on October 3 in the Journal of Human Evolution, Emilie Campmas of the Université de Bordeaux and colleagues suggest that early modern humans who occupied caves in the Témara region near the coast of Northern Morocco came and went, at least in terms of the intensity of their occupation, in correlation with major shifts in the climate of the region.

“The study area was selected for two main reasons,” write the study authors in their report abstract. “First, it contains numerous caves with Upper Pleistocene deposits, which have yielded remains of anatomically modern humans in association with Aterian and Iberomaurusian artifacts. Second, these caves are currently located on the shore, thus this region is particularly sensitive to major climate change and sea level fluctuations.”*

The researchers conducted a diachronic taphonomic study of the faunal remains recovered from two sites in the Témara region, the El Harhoura 2 and El Mnasra caves. Their study showed alternating human and non-human predator occupations of the sites. They found that the lower layers of the El Mnasra Cave, dating to Oxygen Isotope Stage (OIS) 5 [between 80,000 and 130,000 years ago], yielded the remains of a diverse range of ungulates and that at least some of the remains featured significant “anthropogenic impact marks”, or cut-marks due to human activity, such as the application of stone cutting tools. This evidence was associated with mollusk shells, Nassarius shell beads, hearths, lithics, bone tools, and pigments. They also found that faunal remains in the upper layers dating to later periods in the El Harhoura 2 and El Mnasra caves were predominantly gazelles, showing significant evidence of non-human carnivore activities, “such as tooth marks, numerous semi-digested bones and coprolites” along with significantly fewer anthropogenic signatures (cut marks caused by humans and burnt bones). Moreover, analysis of the lithic evidence at El Harhoura 2 dated to the later periods indicated a less intensive human occupation.  “The ‘intensive’ human occupations date to OIS 5 and could have taken place during wet periods in connection with high sea levels, which allowed the exploitation of shellfish in this area,” write the study authors. “‘Non-intensive’ human occupations generally correspond to arid periods and lower sea levels, during which the Témara area was further inland and may have been less attractive to humans”.*

The study may have some implications for understanding or reinforcing the influence of climate change or fluctuations in the scientific modeling of ancient coastal human settlements or migrations/movements in other parts of the world.


*Emilie Campmas, Patrick Michel, Sandrine Costamagno, Fethi Amani, Emmanuelle Stoetzel, Roland Nespoulet, Mohamed Abdeljalil El Hajraoui, Were Upper Pleistocene human/non-human predator occupations at the Témara caves (El Harhoura 2 and El Mnasra, Morocco) influenced by climate change?, Journal of Human Evolution, 2014, DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.08.008

Cover Photo, Top Left: Satellite image of Morocco, Wikimedia Commons


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