Exploring hunter-gatherer human resilience in Armenia using a novel proxy for climate change, the population dynamics of small mammals from ancient DNA

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Selina Brace

Earth Sciences Department, NHM

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Secondary Supervisor:

Mark Thomas

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Additional Supervisor(s):
Ariel Malinsky Buller (The Hebrew University)

Project Description:

This project aims to study past hunter-gatherers’ resilience to climatic oscillations in the Southern Caucasus during Marine Isotope Stage 3 (MIS), ca. 60-27 kya. This is a critical time for hominins in Southwestern Asia as it includes the transition from the Middle to Upper Paleolithic, and the possible replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans. It is also a highly dynamic climatic period, that witnessed rapid climatically driven environmental change. The Southern Caucasus are an ideal locale to study the effects of climatic change because the climatic shifts in the region are particularly pronounced and the heterogenous environment, steep gradients and diverse ecological niches would have made it a significantly challenging habitat for hominins. The effects of these climatic oscillations on hominin populations are however essentially unknown, as are the effects on terrestrial mammalian communities in the region.

This project involves data from on-going excavations in Armenia to reconstruct the population dynamics of hominins via their material culture, but will also apply a novel proxy, ancient DNA (aDNA), from rodents. An aDNA phylogenentic study will identify changes in population structure such as turnover events and ebb and flow but also possible refugia during MIS 3. Population structure combined with AMS dating of the rodent remains, will provide direct evidence for the timing of mammalian population-level changes and therefore the timing of the most challenging periods for mammalian persistence. This data together with the paleoenvironmental data from the studied locales will permit targeted assessment of hominin populations persistence during MIS3.

Policy Impact of Research:

This research has relevance for decision making in relation to conservation and climate change as it explores species response to past climate change, an important consideration for conservation strategies addressing current/future climate change.

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