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Maybe they were just smarter than us

08 Mar 2023 | OP ED Watch

Nature shares the astonishing discovery that “Like retirees who flock to the Costa del Sol, ancient European hunter-gatherers sought out Spain’s warmer climate during the peak of the last ice age.” And why? Because warmth is good for life, including human life, and cold is really wretched and kills the crops and drives away the animals. What will we brilliant modern humans think of next? As for “cook with fire”, one of their great gifts to us, we seem to be in the process of panicking and throwing it back.

We do not wish to be rude about the actual study, which seems to have been quite clever. It addressed the curious problem that according to what is admittedly a very small sample of DNA, the Homo sapiens who first ventured into Europe from Africa around 45,000 years ago do not seem to have left descendants, unlike some who lived in Belgium 35,000 years ago. Which is not the problem. We humans have had a nasty habit of disappearing other tribes ever since the invention of rock against head.

The problem is that the Belgian DNA vanishes for about 20,000 years then reappears. And the solution seems to be that they went to Spain for their health during the boringly named Last Glacial Maximum and ventured north again when it warmed up. Apparently.

It’s all based on very little physical evidence, like the entire reconstruction of human ancestry. So the people who apparently ducked down into the Balkans on the same “let’s not freeze our paleolithics off” philosophy left no actual traces that we have yet found. But there’s something we have found traces of, and again the story rather naively blurts it out without first ringing up Michael Mann, Al Gore or the CRU to check whether it’s inconvenient.

It is of course the fact is that there were drastic natural fluctuations in climate throughout the prehistoric period, and any other period you care to study, and humans could not have caused them. We were too busy huddling together for warmth, or occasionally doing an exceptionally graceful picture of an auroch and muttering a prayer that a plump, slow-moving one might wander across our path in the coming days. Plus we couldn’t change the weather back then by incantations or spending programs or even lighting a fire and spewing CO2 into the unforgiving mist.

The story finds an archaeologist to put in a good word for her subjects, and we do appreciate enthusiasm:

“The studies paint a dynamic picture of European hunter-gatherer populations, which don’t always line up with cultural shifts, says Natasha Reynolds, a palaeolithic archaeologist at the University of Bordeaux, France. They also show that, for parts of Europe at least, the coldest period of the ice age wasn’t as inhospitable as it’s often made out to be. ‘People weren’t just huddling in caves waiting for the glaciers to retreat,’ she says.”

That “cave men” did not actually live in caves is a regrettable but fairly well-established fact. For one thing, there aren’t enough caves to go around. For another, skins are warmer than rocks. But they also weren’t the kind of dunces who would just sit there as the cold came and wiped them out. They scooped up their spears, bone fishhooks and makeup kits (yes, really), whistled for the dogs, and headed for the Costa del Sol. Whereas we prepare to sacrifice our cars, furnaces and stoves on the altar of Gaia and hope it gets colder right where we are.

Thag would not be impressed.

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