Ancient volcanic eruption didn’t spark early human cultural changes, say researchers

Credit: University of Tübingen.

A team of international researchers from the Universities of Tübingen, Siena, and Bologna has found that a massive volcanic eruption about 40,000 years ago did not trigger cultural innovations among early Homo sapiens.

The study focused on Grotta di Castelcivita in southern Italy, an important archaeological site where ancient cultural remains are preserved under volcanic ash.

The eruption, known as the Campanian Ignimbrite, originated from the Phlegraean Fields and is considered the most powerful volcanic event ever recorded in the Mediterranean.

The researchers analyzed the cultural artifacts left by early Homo sapiens before this eruption and found evidence of advanced cultural development that predates the volcanic event.

Using advanced methods to study stone tools, the researchers discovered that early humans at Castelcivita were already crafting sophisticated miniaturized stone points, known as micro-points, from rocks found near the cave.

These tiny tools were likely used in multi-component projectile weapons, showcasing their advanced skills and innovative thinking.

In addition to stone tools, the researchers found over a hundred marine shells collected from the Mediterranean shores.

These shells were perforated and used for decorative purposes, indicating a complex and symbolic use of materials.

This discovery challenges the long-held belief that natural disasters, such as volcanic eruptions and cooling events, were key drivers of major cultural changes in early human societies.

Instead, the study suggests that cultural innovations among early Homo sapiens were likely the result of cultural transmission and the establishment of large-scale networks that extended beyond the Alps.

The findings provide new insights into how Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies developed sophisticated strategies to adapt to changing environments.

Grotta di Castelcivita is one of Europe’s most important prehistoric sites, with a detailed stratigraphic sequence showing the replacement of Neanderthals by early Homo sapiens around 43,000 years ago.

The research was conducted with permission from the Italian Ministry of Culture by the Research Unit of Prehistory and Anthropology at the University of Siena, under the direction of Adriana Moroni.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, represents a significant step towards understanding the cultural development of early human societies and how they thrived in dynamic environments.

Source: KSR.