The Early-Middle Pleistocene environmental and climatic change and the human expansion in Western Europe: A case study with small vertebrates (Gran Dolina, Atapuerca, Spain)

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The dispersal of hominins may have been favored by the opening of the landscape during the EarlyeMiddle Pleistocene transition (EMP) in Western Europe. The structure of the small-vertebrate assemblages of the archaeo-paleontological karstic site of Gran Dolina in Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain) shows important environmental and climatic changes in the faunal succession, across the MatuyamaeBrunhes boundary at 780 ka. These changes are interpreted to indicate impoverishment of the forests, along with an increase in dry meadows, and open lands in general that entailed a tendency towards the loss of diversity in small-vertebrate communities above the EMP. We evaluate variation in diversity of the faunal succession of Gran Dolina using Shannon’s Second Theorem as an index of ecosystem structure. The long cultural-stratigraphic sequence of Gran Dolina during the EMP is somewhat similar in its completeness and continuity to that in the locality of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov in the Upper Jordan Valley. We also evaluate related data including faunal and floral (pollen) succession. Both localities present cold, dry and humid, warm fluctuations at the transition between the Early and the Middle Pleistocene. Comparisons between these sites present opportunities to understand large-scale climatic changes.
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