In this panel, we will explore the role of climate and associated environmental change in shaping early hominin biological and behavioural evolution.
The connections between climate change and human evolution have been extensively explored but there is still much to be discovered about hominin responses, biological and behavioural, to climatic pressures. The end of the Miocene, the time during which hominins originated and began to radiate, witnessed the onset of the cooling and drying trend that was to continue throughout the Pliocene and Pleistocene. The Messinian Salinity Crisis (MSC), a major environmental event, also occurred in the terminal Miocene, and probably influenced global climate as well as that in the immediate Mediterranean region. Increasingly seasonal environments led to more short-term climatic and environmental variation in addition to longer-term trends and major events. This panel will discuss the role of climate change in the early phases (the late Miocene, Pliocene and early Pleistocene) of hominin evolution, examining how global climate change, major events such as the MSC, and seasonality made an impact on regional environments and how hominins and their ecological communities may have responded, taking a broad view that includes speciation, extinction, adaptation, and dispersal. Recent discoveries of stone tools prior to 3 million years ago underline the deep roots of hominin behavioural complexity, and the importance of such complexity in the face of changing climates and varying and variable environments will also be discussed.