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The Middle to Late Pleistocene
The Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), the most common mammoth that inhabited North and Central Americas during the middle and late Pleistocene. DNA studies show that it was a hybrid species between the iconic woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius, a common middle to late Pleistocene European and Siberian species which is also known from North America) and another lineage descended from the Eurasian steppe mammoths (Mammuthus trogontherii). The hybridization happened more than 420,000 years ago. [Wikipedia]. At 4 meters at the shoulders and 10 tonnes in weight, it was among the largest species of mammoth, although still smaller than the European and West Asian straight tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus). The Asian straight-tusked elephant Palaeoloxodon namadicus was even larger. These huge yet highly intelligent and empathic animals dominated the landscape until the coming of man. - Image from Shutterstock - original page
Between the megayear expanses of Geological Time, the drift of continents, and the rise and fall of dynasties of life, and the mere centuries of Historical Time, with its own rise and fall of dynasties of nations and civilisations, there is an intermediate region that we don't really cover in great detail here, but is still interesting nevertheless. That is Quaternary Time, which covers the two million or so years of paleoclimatology, paleoanthropology, paleontology, and archeology from the Plio-Pleistocene to the current Holocene, using divisions of time on the scale of millennia and tens of millennia. This timescale is relevant to studies on medium term climate fluctuations and their ecological effects. From our anthropocentric perspective, paleolithic human migrations and the origin and early evolution of human language and culture, all pertain to this timescale.
Three quarters of this time slice, the last 500,000 years ago, is taken up by the later two-thirds of the Middle Pleistocene. The rest is the short Late Pleistocene, and the even briefer Holocene. For the fanciful equivalent projected into the future, see the near term far distant future.
Although the Middle and Late Pleistocene ages are just a blip in the history of the Earth, this period is a hundred times longer than all recorded history. This gives an idea of Deep Time. This period was characterised by Pleistocene flora, fauna and megafauna, and a succession of glacials and interglacials. The current Holocene is actually part of a brief interglacial period, although human activities have disrupted the normal climate cycle.
The Middle Pleistocene population of Europe could have reached 25,000 individuals in the period between 560.000 and 360.000 years ago. Areas of the continent inhabited by Paleolithic hunter-gatherers in different periods. Image by J. Rodríguez. This image is part of the TROPHIc Project Grant I+D+i PID2019-105101GB-I00 funded by MCIN/AEI/ 10.13039/501100011033.
The period of prehistory also saw the evolution and migration of early human species such as Homo erectus and Neanderthals, as well as the development of the first human settlements and the beginning of human migration across the globe
The last half million years, from Wikipedia
- 420 Kya. Columbian mammoth evolves as a hybrid between the Woolly Mammoth and Steppe Mammoth lineages
- 400 Kya. First polar bears. Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) appears in the fossil record. Mindel / elster / kansan glacial
- 350 Kya. Evolution of Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis): This species lived in Europe and Asia, and is known for their adaptation to cold climates and the development of complex stone tools.
- 350 to 200 Kya. Swanscombe - Holstein interglacial, Homo heidelbergensis.
- 315 Kya. Anatomically modern humans appear in Africa.
- 300 Kya. Gigantopithecus, a giant relative of the orangutan from Asia dies out.
- 150 ka. Riss / saale / late illinoian glacial.
- 129 - 126 Kya. Start of the Eemian interglacial period. Late Pleistocene begins
- 50 Kya. Modern humans begin to migrate out of Africa.
- 5 Kya. Civilisation, recorded history.
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