An article that puts the Greenie panic over the very minor climate fluctuations of recent times into perspective
Britain has had one of the most volatile climates on earth with up to 10 ice ages forcing early settlers into exile, leaving the land uninhabited for periods of up to 110,000 years, researchers have found. A study - led by the Natural History Museum - of 700,000 years of human attempts to settle in Britain found that the Gulf Stream, which keeps the British Isles warm, kept collapsing, plunging them into Arctic cold. The lurches from temperate to freezing sometimes took as little as 10 years, says Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins in the museum's paleontology department, in a new book, Homo Britannicus, to be published in October.
After the last ice age humans returned to Britain only 11,500 years ago. Stringer said: "We might think that the roots of the British people lie deep in British soil but they can be traced back less than 12,000 years, far more shallow than those of our continental neighbours."
His book summarises the findings of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project, a six-year study of thousands of artefacts and other remains left behind by prehistoric man during successive colonisations. Thirty archeologists, paleontologists and geologists from institutes across the country worked together to construct a detailed calendar of early humans' arrivals and departures.
They concluded that the present temperate climate is an anomaly and steamy heat or bitter cold are far more typical. Stringer said: "We have evidence that between 500,000 and 12,000 years ago humans were only in Britain for about 20% of the time. Between 180,000 and 70,000 years ago Britain was abandoned, completely empty of people." Such findings imply a major rewriting of British prehistory. It has long been known that climatic changes forced early humans out of Britain but not so many times.
There were other surprises, too. Until recently it was thought that the first humans arrived in southern Europe about 800,000 years ago but that none made it to Britain until 500,000 years ago. But Stringer says: "We have remarkable new evidence from East Anglia showing that humans arrived here 700,000 years ago, earlier than anyone believed. They lived in an environment with a balmy climate like that of southern Europe."
Their stay was, however, not destined to last because about 470,000 years ago a huge ice cap spread across northern Europe, reaching the outskirts of what is now north London. That glaciation was to be the first of many. By the time it receded, about 400,000 years ago, Neanderthals had evolved in Europe and it was they who recolonised Britain.
However, they too were driven out when the ice returned 380,000 years ago, a pattern that was to be repeated many times. The most prolonged and enigmatic evacuation of Britain began with a new ice age that peaked about 140,000 years ago. When it finished, about 20,000 years later, many animals quickly returned to Britain, including deer, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and hyenas - but no humans. They remained absent for more than 100,000 years, says Stringer.
Eventually, about 60,000 years ago, Neanderthals did return to Britain, only to become extinct 30,000 years later. Modern humans have proved better than Neanderthals at withstanding climatic changes but they, too, were driven back from Britain as a mile-thick ice-cap built up over Scotland 25,000 years ago, returning only 10,000 years later. The last ice age began 13,000 years ago and lasted 1,500 years.
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