Research Fellows Directory
Dr Rhiannon Stevens
University of Cambridge
The last 2.6 millions years has been a period of intense climate variability and has witnessed the evolution and extinction of multiple hominin species, with only our species, Homosapiens sapiens, surviving to the present day. The relationship between climate change, hominin evolution and dispersal has been extensively debated, with some researchers suggesting that climate drove human development and evolution, allowing people to thrive in changing environments and expand their geography. Other researchers suggest that the role of climate was more indirect or of little significance.
This project focuses on the period 50-20,000 years ago, during which humans are thought to have made a significant number of behavioural and cultural advances. Key innovations included technological developments in lithic industries, extensive production of art, the earliest development of ceramics, textiles and semi-permanent huts. These innovations are thought to demonstrate cognitive development in terms of creativity, symbolic expression, and self-awareness. It has often been suggested that these developments were a result of innovative problem-solving in the face of environmental stress. Although global climate is known to have been highly variable at this time, little is known about the climatic conditions experienced by the early humans as limited climate information local to the archaeological sites is available. This project aims to reconstruct the local climate through chemically analysing the bones and teeth of animals hunted by the early humans. Chemical signature in food and water are controlled by the local climate conditions. These signatures are transferred to an animal when they eat or drink and are recorded in their bones and teeth. This chemical and climatic information can be extracted many thousands of years after an animal dies, allowing us to reconstruct the local climate conditions in the past.