Migration and Creativity: What Roles do They Play During Climate Change?

1.1. A necessary evil

Understanding climate change, as a global phenomenon, involves referring to history in order to grasp its consequences in the present. Contemporary paleoanthropology advances creativity as a decisive characteristic in the hominization process. Paleoanthropologists, like Yves Coppens, have highlighted the role of creativity in the development of the genus Homo in the face of the many climate changes of the Quaternary. A significant climate volatility, that of the Ice Ages, contributed to the formation of human cultures, which were capable of better adaptive properties than natural selection alone.

This raises questions about the possible interactions between climate volatility and major transformations of cultures and religions. The methodological challenge is that of a global history that can reconcile the concerns of the present with questions about the emergence of human cultures. The developer of the idea of the greenhouse effect, Joseph Fourier, was in the audience of Auguste Comte’s first class, developer of a cultural evolutionism based on three states of human thought. The theory proposed by Comte was that of cultures that are first fetishist, then metaphysical and finally positivist. The concerns of that present time were then those of distinguishing oneself from the previous century, that of the Enlightenment, described as “metaphysical”. A few years later, Boucher de Perthes exhumed stone tools that had undergone several episodes of glaciation, producing an immense expansion of the times of natural and human history.

1.1.1. The methodological challenge of a global history

Climate history has often been weakened when considered in a short time scale from a climate point of view, such as the last millennium in the work of Emmanuel Le Roy-Ladurie [LER 09]. While paleoanthropologists highlight a link between climate change and creativity, the work of climate historians over the past millennium does not seem to point to much evidence shedding light on this issue of creativity and climate change. At most, the importance of certain major tragic events for the emergence of new formulations can be pointed out. The great famines of the 17th Century in Europe were the result of wars in a cold weather climate. An arrival into a warmer and wetter period brought the great Irish famine of 1846 and the questioning of protectionist policies in England. In addition, situations of so-called “necessary evil”, such as the 1 million deaths from famine in Ireland, which redefined England’s economic policies by ensuring a century of great prosperity, make it difficult to formulate an assessment of the relationship between climate and cultures through simple historical scholarship.

Kant’s opuscule on the Idea of a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose was an attempt to meet the methodological challenge of a global history by confronting the question of situations deemed “necessary evils”. The central concept introduced by Kant is that of “socializing associability”: the excesses of individualism contribute to precipitating the emergence of a final state of happiness and peace by accelerating the establishment of a “civil society enclosure” that transmutes the initial destructive raw form of creativity into art work [KAN 09]:

“It takes the greatest want of all to bring men to the point where they cannot live alongside each other in wild freedom but within such an enclosure as the civic association provides. These very same inclinations afterwards have a very good effect. It is like the trees in a forest that, since each seeks to take air and sun away from the other, compel each other to seek both and thus they achieve a beautiful straight growth. Whereas those that develop their branches as they please, in freedom and apart from each other, grow crooked and twisted. All culture and art that adorn mankind, the most beautiful social order, are the fruits of associability that is self-compelled to discipline itself and thus through a derived art to fulfil completely the germs of its nature.” [KAN 09]

Kant’s opuscule concludes with the idea that only a global history can provide a sound assessment of public action. The posterity of Kant’s work has been multiple, but one of the most legitimate is the sociology of Norbert Elias in the 20th Century [ELI 39]. Elias points out how better self-control has historically been achieved through the dissemination of behavioral models from the development of large royal courts, as was the case for Western European countries, for example. Europe was ravaged in the 16th and 17th Centuries by civil wars, which permanently damaged social relations [ELI 39]. The context in which Kant wrote can be understood through contemporary investigations into the aftermath of civil wars, where there may still be a high level of social violence in interpersonal relationships, or, on the contrary, a positive development of civil society (e.g. contemporary Chile), or a combination of both.

Kant is located for natural history in a teleological tradition that goes back to Aristotle. Nature would have a predefined order from which human history and individual anti-social behavior seem to escape. In the global history proposed by Kant, this natural order is established in the long term, due to a late arrival in the history of humanity of the “enclosure of civil society”. The evils present only make sense on the scale of the human species. An indirect legacy of Kant’s global history is Darwin’s theory of lethal natural selection, which takes up for living processes the idea that great destruction can participate in a creation, an idea that Kant had developed only for social processes.

Kant’s global history differs from Rousseau’s and Adam Smith’s approaches. For Rousseau, civilization spoils an original state of creativity. For Smith, social coordination can be explained, as in Kant’s case, by the dynamics of socializing associability. Kant’s expansion in relation to Smith includes individual and collective disciplines that introduce a civilization process.

1.1.2. Denial or a mandate from heaven

Contemporary global history, based on an initial contribution by Jaspers [JAS 54], uses a list of major cultural transformations. The latter can be regional or optional, unlike an evolutionary mechanism. Testot’s book proposes a list of seven major cultural transformations, although groupings are made at the beginning of the list [TES 17]. The first three major cultural transformations are those of the Paleolithic: the tool, fire and the arts (respectively Lower, Middle and Upper Paleolithic). The next three are those of the productive economy, writing and individual morality. The last three most commonly selected are print, the Industrial Revolution and contemporary climate change. Major climate changes were repeated at a sustained rate up to 14 ka, which marked the end of the Paleolithic and the beginning of isotopic stage 1. In the history of creativity, the main arts were formed during the Paleolithic period (dance, music, visual arts). The second sequence of three major cultural transformations saw only the birth of the performing arts, and the third sequence saw the arts linked to new technologies, such as photography and film. In a large-scale pattern, climate change increased in the Quaternary, while a creative index only took on high values after a series of glaciations, but before the end of the Paleolithic (see Figure 1.1).


Figure 1.1. Climate and creativity. Paleolithic creativity indicator: Level of lithic industry + diversity of productions + ubiquity index. For a color version of this figure, see www.iste.co.uk/alaktif/climate.zip

Tylor had called “animist” the attribution of great powers to living nature. The great natural and climatic events were able to remain in this regime until the transition of the first great cities, polytheism and writing. In this caesura, a great sovereign replaced the mountain or cyclone. In the Warring Kingdoms in China, rulers had a mandate from heaven. The sovereign determined the state of disaster and took measures, such as tax relief. However, a variant existed. The first emperor of the Qin dynasty claimed only to have an earthly power affirmed as universal. A similar attitude was found in the Roman Empire. The imperial inscriptions on tablets that marked the respective boundaries of their empires indicated an account of their earthly mandate. When the earth trembled near Vesuvius, Emperor Nero remained impassive, because it was not his role to react immediately. The regime of disaster, denial and mandate from the sky is still seen today in the face of climate change [AYK 15].

1.2. Cultures and climatic gradient

Are major cultural transformations linked to maximum cold/warm temperatures or climate volatility? A first discussion focuses on the respective role of simple climatic extremes (maximum or minimum temperatures, biomass and rainfall) and periods of high climate volatility, i.e. the most significant oscillations of climatic variables. Indeed, since climate volatility is sometimes very low or, on the contrary, perceptible in the course of a human life, transformations of creativity and cultures are expected in this second type of period. However, there are ornate caves and archaeological sites that can be linked to these two types of situations from a climatic point of view. In the Solutrean and Magdalenian periods, Europe was plunged into intense cold. On the other hand, small localized variations in climatic parameters have been enough to make human civilizations disappear: a decline in the monsoon zone put an end to the caesura and made the green Sahara and its culture based on extensive cattle breeding disappear.

A list of major cultural transformations was proposed by Karl Jaspers [JAS 54]. This general nomenclature of cultures and religions of both present and past anatomically modern humans was developed by Yves Lambert [LAM 14]. For Homo sapiens, seven major cultural transformations have been selected, including current climate change. It is necessary to add a first cultural transformation, the tool, which concerns a part of the Homininae, and a second, fire, which concerns a part of the genus Homo. A general picture of these major cultural transformations does not systematically associate major climatic and cultural breaks. The Mesolithic period appeared as a pivotal period in this list of major cultural transformations. Previous periods were marked by both great cultural stability and climatic instability, while the periods after and before contemporary climate change were those of rapid renewal of cultures and civilizations in a climate with only slight variations. The first major cultural transformations of the Jaspers-Lambert nomenclature were those that most directly involved a relationship with the environment, the others being either in a register of technological shock (invention of writing, of print) or of theological reform (in all the cultures and religions initiated by Zarathustra).


Figure 1.2. Climate and human cultures (anatomically modern humans). For a color version of this figure, see www.iste.co.uk/alaktif/climate.zip

As early as the 19th Century, prehistorians distinguished the Lower, Middle and Upper Paleolithic due to the perceived sophistication of lithic tools and associated cultures. Perhaps it would also be necessary to distinguish between cultural conservation resilience and transformative resilience. The transition from the end of the Paleolithic period has made it possible to precisely define the characteristics of the latter [GRI 19]. The Lower Paleolithic had very stable lithic cultures over long periods of time while climate volatility was increasing. Humankind had obtained cultural conservation resilience. The transition from one to the other was probably made in the Middle Paleolithic. In the Lower Paleolithic, the count of innovations at the time of climate change showed an erratic curve, which may have included abandonment of a site. Subsequent transitions in the period assumed to be that of the demographic minimum of anatomically modern humans more clearly indicated innovative responses in a clear succession after a climate shock. For the Howiensons Poort culture (about 66–59 ka), for example, where there was a small hot oscillation accompanied by the development of the use of incised ostrich eggs as water containers, the link between the nature of the climate shock and cultural innovations was made without difficulties [ROB 16]. Approximately one-liter water bottles were used for long game hunts and could also be stored in predetermined locations. Resilience then involved a positive cultural transformation, and this was the oldest known case of this type of situation.

The situation in contrast to these sequences of cultural response to a climate shock was that more or less significant climatic variations modified the species of Homininae, while what remained as archaeological evidence of their culture indicates a very long stability. Technical improvement was extremely slow, even as entire groups of species began disappearing, such as Australopithecus. The tool appeared before a more pronounced cooling phase, whereas there was not yet a polar cap in the Northern Hemisphere. Very long-lasting hot and humid climates experienced cooling oscillations. Paranthropes developed in a forest cover that may have been reduced during these cooling episodes and caused the complete disappearance of this group of species. “It is only around 1.2 million years ago that the desire to obtain robust cutters led to the production of the biface and simultaneously to the more systematic retouching of the edges” ([MOH 98], p. 96). The ancient Paleolithic tool was perpetuated through species and climatic shocks. In this conservation resilience, perennial cultures served as a permanent external stock, while increasing climate volatility accelerated natural selection. Despite its low creativity, it provided an advantage for groups of perennial species over other megafauna groups, which remained large and highly diversified.


Figure 1.3. Climate change and innovation (isotopic stages 5 and 4). Source: [ROB 16], sea level is expressed in km of distance from the Blombos site; the innovation index is a count of innovations and losses of know-how. For a color version of this figure, see www.iste.co.uk/alaktif/climate.zip

The Middle Paleolithic remained in this configuration of conservation resilience, but with a higher level of creativity. For example, at the Blombos site in a period that was one of the fastest climatic variations (the fourth arrow from the left in Figure 1.2), the level of innovation and loss of know-how first increased, then the site was abandoned and finally a return to its original state was achieved. Climate change hindered the accumulation of new know-how and contributed to long-term cultural stability (see Figure 1.3). In the succession of very strong climatic variations (indicated by the red arrows in Figure 1.2), the first three were of the type of transformation resilience. Blombos represents the most recent known situation of conservation resilience associated with a maximum climatic gradient.

This figure of the transition between isotopic stages 5 and 4 can be compared with that between isotopic stages 2 and 1 (see Figure 1.4).


Figure 1.4. Cumulative number of innovations from the end of the European Paleolithic and rising sea level (isotopic stages 2 and 1). Source: [GRI 19]. For a color version of this figure, see www.iste.co.uk/alaktif/climate.zip

The end of the Paleolithic in Europe was the end of Magdalenian culture in favor of Azilian and other Mesolithic cultures. The icon of this transition around 14 ka is an engraved representation of an auroch head surrounded by solar-type rays, found in Plougastel. The first post-Magdalenian culture on the shores of the English Channel gave the auroch, hunted and cherished, a primary role. The temperature difference during this transition for Northern Europe was 10°C. Magdalenian culture was that of reindeer hunters, who used reindeer wooden paddle thrusters. Later cultures generalized the use of arch and flint tips. Global warming increased vegetation cover, and forest-dependent species (wild boar, deer, roe) replaced the large herbivores of the steppes (bison, mammoth) and tundra (reindeer). A collective hunt of large herbivore herds gave way to more autonomous hunters in a more fragmented space, cut off from large lakes, rivers and immense forests. The forms of seasonal migration changed. Magdalenians had a fixed winter camp and made long journeys following herbivore herds during the summer period. Azilians abandoned long summer trips, but were more mobile at short distances. This favored the emergence of local cultures, while the Magdalenian culture covered the European region. This transformation resilience required resources such as innovations that had only been previously used by certain clans until then, such as the bow. Indirect evidence of navigation has existed since the end of the Dryas period, both in the Mediterranean and on the lakes created by the melting of the Scandinavian ice sheet. Again, it is certain, due to the crossing of the Wallace boundary* (estimated to be 65 ka), that navigation was used well in the past. However, its use was only widespread in Mesolithic Europe.

Recent research [GRI 19] details the phases in the transition from Magdalenian to Azilian. The first period, between 16 ka and 14 ka, introduced some changes in the Magdalenian culture. Innovators remained pioneers, and innovations had limited diffusion. The rise in temperature underwent sudden and relatively brief interruptions, the Dryas, from 14 ka. “When it got very cold again, the arid steppe came back, partially pushing back the forests, but the skills of cold had been forgotten”. The scarcity of livelihoods led to serious crises. Mass slaughter of game could be explained by a wider consumption of all species, an irregular rate of game presence due to climatic instability, and the increase in hunters’ autonomy, while the Magdalenian cultural system disappeared. After two centuries, in 13.8 ka, “the expansion of forest cover was accompanied by a tremendous development momentum and a mosaic of new cultures emerged in north western Europe. It was only after the stabilization of climatic and environmental conditions that the groups resumed contact” ([GRI 19], p. 49). Around 13 ka, the new cultural system, the Azilian, settled in.

The maximum values of the climatic gradient thus make it possible to characterize situations of resilience-conservation which dominated in the Lower and Middle Paleolithic and of resilience-transformation from the end of the Middle Paleolithic. Much smaller changes, such as changes in temperature or a slight change in the monsoon regime, had major consequences, such as the disappearance of the Indus civilization, or the formation of the largest desert on the planet, the Sahara.

To continue the discussion according to the value of the climatic gradient, it is finally necessary to consider the situations of simple extremes, a maximum of cold or hot in a period of no climatic variation.

A review of the simple extremes is rather negative with regard to the major transformations of the cultures on the Jaspers-Lambert list. The period from the multiplication of the arts to the formation of the Upper Paleolithic was one of great climatic instability, but neither of a maximum nor of a minimum. For the caesura of the end of the Paleolithic, there were archaeological arguments to indicate its existence at the time of maximum climate volatility around 14 ka [GRI 19]. Solar cults were able to assert themselves in cold climates with little sunshine. In Paleolithic Europe, light conditions remained generally good, while hunter-gatherer societies in Eastern Siberia had a solar cult, adopted after their arrival in the region, according to excavation site surveys.

The absence of significant cultural changes for these climatic optima that corresponded to a high stability of the climate, either extremely cold or hot, is understandable: these exceptional values are those calculated by climatologists, while humans only perceive the absence of climatic fluctuations. For the hot maximum around 120 ka, studies indicate that hunting pressure by human groups was too high. Cultural changes existed for the cold minimum around 24–20 ka, but they were not more significant than in other phases of fluctuations, and artistic productions were very limited in number. It was the existing techniques that were perfected: flint cutting was then the finest. Other materials were used to make a wider range of tools. Know-how also deteriorated: human groups were following survival strategies, with a loss of the quality of their technical production. Previous innovations present within the Gravettian disappeared. These periods were times of technical divergence: some groups were resilient, while others disappeared or retreated into a culture of survival.

The hot humid maximum of the Holocene, around 8 ka, promoted the development of agriculture and introduced improvements, such as the use of milk from domestic animals for food. However, this development of agriculture appeared to have an autonomous dynamic, simply slowed down or accelerated depending on the nature of the climate fluctuation.

Apollo, the solar deity, is preceded by the Muses: the mythology of Greek antiquity associated in chronological order the two major transformations that took place in the Upper Paleolithic. The dates that can be advanced for the multiplication of the arts are about 45–35 ka, and for the caesura of the end of the Paleolithic, 14 ka. These two periods correspond to high climate volatility. The simple extremes, maximum or minimum climate, did not form pivotal periods for the great transformations of cultures and religions (see Figure 1.5).


Figure 1.5. Cultures and climate in the European Upper Paleolithic

1.3. The conquest of ubiquity

Ubiquity* gives a simple measure of creativity. Two main cases have been found in the genus Homo. The first is that of a biological adaptation of human species in a region of the globe. This regionalization was a characteristic of the Middle Paleolithic, even with the appearance of anatomically modern humans, H. sapiens. In the second a cultural factor plays a decisive role, and in a way creativity prevails over biological adaptation, which also tends to accelerate in the event of high climate volatility. The progressive conquest of ubiquity for the genus Homo, i.e. its ability to adapt to any type of environment, can only be considered as acquired in the last period of the Paleolithic.

Only some species of the genus Homo, H. ergaster/erectus and H. sapiens, spread across the globe. The genetic heritage of modern man results from interbreeding between H. sapiens and species that became specialized through a biological adaptation process, such as H. neanderthalensis and H. denisova for cold and high-altitude environments. The genus Homo is thus crossed by a conflict between species that were experiencing regional expansion (e.g. Neanderthals from Europe to the Near East and Central Asia) and those experiencing even greater expansion covering most climatic zones, i.e. H. ergaster/erectus and H. sapiens.

The Quaternary climate system saw two situations, either of the Ice Ages or of the warm periods known as interglacials, such as the Holocene in which we currently find ourselves. Climate instability was more significant in the Ice Ages. Indeed, the presence of large ice sheets contributed to amplifying variations. It played a disruptive role, modifying marine currents and the rainfall regime, and intermittently led to a very large quantity of icebergs. For example, the degradation of an increasingly cold climate between about 50,000 years ago (50 ka) and 20 ka was notable through the disappearance of the European megafauna, three times larger than today’s animals (one red deer is 1/3 of the mega deer; one lion, 1/3 of the cave lion). The evolutionary bush of the genus Homo was also very heavily pruned during this period; all human species suffered bottlenecks that reduced their genetic diversity, and only one remained, H. sapiens. The human population remained small due to climate variability. Small human groups of H. sapiens (10 to 30 individuals) had great difficulty in preserving major inventions (repeated reinventions of ceramics, arches, boat building, before their consolidation in the Holocene). Situations of great distress were suspected in association with the reduction of biomass by sudden climatic variation (degradation of the quality of lithic tools, probable famine cannibalism, attested, for example, for H. neanderthalensis at Baume Moula Guercy (Ardèche, France) in 120 ka in a hot oscillation).

Creativity gives way to ubiquity, i.e. an all-climate skill, a skill that is particularly valuable in the event of high climate volatility. The first archaeologists associated the degree of development of flint work with a succession of ages: first, the Lower Paleolithic, then the Middle (which corresponds roughly to the pre-Neanderthal and Neanderthal for Europe) and finally the Upper. In terms of hominization, paleoanthropologists identified three major episodes of creativity: schematically, the tool, fire and the arts. The oldest traces of Homo erectus outside Africa have been found in Georgia, dating back 1.7 million years. The climate was hot, and so the exit from Africa was possible without really changing the climate zone. “Fire control is a great improvement, since despite the progressive cooling of the climate, it allowed” Homo erectus and then his pre-Neanderthal successors to pursue an expansion outside Africa [LUM 17].


Figure 1.6. The conquest of ubiquity in the genus Homo. Source: [HEI 93]. The map shows the contemporary coastal lines. For a color version of this figure, see www.iste.co.uk/alaktif/climate.zip

The progression of the ubiquity indicator is not linear. The Middle Paleolithic, the period of fire domestication, was marked by the development of regional species, H. sapiens in Africa and H. neanderthalensis in Europe. The ubiquity of regional species was lower than that of universally expanding species. While the ubiquity indicator is calculated as an average of the ubiquity of human species differences, it declined in the Middle Paleolithic and then rose again. “The multiple uses of fire determined a first set of lifestyle improvements: animal protection, lighting, cooking and food preservation, making hardened spears, cooking ocher to obtain the color red for ritual operations” ([LOR 99], pp. 64–65). The esthetic concerns of this long age of ocher were reflected in ornaments, body paintings and marks on tools. This intermediate stage, known as the Middle Paleolithic, was that of specialized human species, such as the Neanderthals, distributed in contiguous regions. Henry De Lumley’s findings indicate that “exit behaviour” in the face of cold weather was a rule widely applied for a very long time by humans:

“Before the domestication of fire, i.e. during periods prior to 400 ka, man occupied the northern regions of Eurasia only during periods of global warming, such as in the Somme valley, or in the Belle-Roche cave near Spilmont, Belgium. During periods of climatic cooling, which alternated every 100 ka, humans retreated to the southernmost parts of Eurasia.” ([LUM 17], p. 153)

The caloric use of fire is well documented in the Upper Paleolithic: stones were deliberately placed near fireplaces to conserve heat and diffuse it. Previously, the pioneer groups of the Middle Paleolithic occupied “cold temperate zones, and its presence then became permanent in the northern regions of Eurasia” ([LUM 17], p. 153). Faced with climatic cooling, H. Neanderthalensis still used an exit strategy, retreating further south when the cold increased, while anatomically modern humans have demonstrated extremophilic behavior since the Upper Paleolithic, remaining permanently in very cold, northern or high-altitude environments.

The decline in the ubiquity indicator in the Middle Paleolithic masked the fact that migration was no longer the only strategy for dealing with climate change. Cultural strategies were deliberately implemented, such as the preparation of hides and furs and the progressive exploitation of the possibilities opened up by the domestication of fire.

1.4. Migration: capacity or necessity?

For the first human migrations, several opposing types of models or explanations are put forward, particularly because of the scale on which the modeler is positioned. In one model the explanation is in the order of a capacity or new power over the environment: humans have acquired a new capacity and they are using it. In this case, first Homo ergaster/erectus, then Homo sapiens, would have improved their ability to cope with the cold and, being curious and adventurous, they left Africa. Another model of explanation is in the register of distress and incapacity; the models advanced for the exit from Africa are then those of phases of climatic aridity in Africa, combined with an excessive hunting pressure which would have led to the extinction of animal species used as a basis for human food. Curiosity or necessity: explanations based on analysis of local ecosystems tend to favor an explanation by necessity, while a “macro-temporal” overview favors an explanation by curiosity and resilience. Indeed, if humans, our ancestors, had only accumulated dysfunctions in their relationship with the environment and fled from raging or hostile elements, we would simply not be here to ask ourselves the question. These two types of situations, those ordered by necessity and those ordered by capacity and curiosity, can coexist, but the aim here is to specify how this could have been done and thus to better understand the role of creativity in the resilience of cultures.

1.4.1. H. ergaster’s African exits

The first Homo exits from Africa were made before the climate deteriorated significantly. Geologists have identified the Quaternary era based on the existence of phenomena related to glaciations or the appearance of huge arid regions. The Tertiary era was a warmer climate with a high biomass and a highly diversified megafauna. The initial expansion of H. ergaster was due to favorable climatic conditions. The reasoning in terms of capacity can be supported: the required capacities were not too significant. The migration strategy remained a possibility in the event of a cold climatic deterioration. These northward migrations continued and enabled human populations to settle in Europe. The boundary of the Acheulean industry was located on a line that crosses Eurasia diagonally from the territory of present-day Denmark to the Bengal Delta. Pioneer populations were further ahead, probably using resources from dense forest cover.

1.4.2. The African exits of anatomically modern humans

Archaeological sites that compare groups of anatomically modern humans after leaving Africa with those left behind do not indicate any major differences, which leaves open the two scenarios of capacity and necessity: either an initial cultural transformation in Africa increased human capacities or they were deemed insufficient to cope with climate change and this led to migration. Only a better knowledge of the periods of training of new capacities in Africa has made it possible to determine the modalities of the dissemination of anatomically modern humans.

The expansion of anatomically modern humans outside Africa probably took place in several main phases. An archaeological site like Jwalapurum in India is that of anatomically modern humans. It shows a first wave around 75 ka, then a second wave 35 ka. A complete ubiquity was obtained by H. sapiens in the transition from the Upper Paleolithic, an episode which saw the multiplication of the arts. All biomes, including the most inhospitable, as well as the Sahul and America, were becoming traversed by anatomically modern humans (see Figure 1.6). Between the two main exit waves from Africa and the Middle East, the first would have been between 106 ka and about 75 ka, and the second between 50 and 35 ka. It is assumed that in the interval between the two exits lied the demographic minimum of the population of anatomically modern humans. The presence of a low bottleneck level in the H. sapiens population was attested directly by genetic studies, but without much precision on its date, and indirectly by the expansion of the Neanderthal population in a period between two super-volcano explosions, those of 73 ka and 39 ka.

Witzel [WIT 12] was the first to propose a general history of the cultures of anatomically modern humans. Witzel divided the first human cultures into three groups:

1. The first group was pan-African, before the first exit from Africa and the Middle East, probably dated 120 to 106 ka. There was a protolanguage. Witzel is a linguist and is rebuilding cultural structures. For this first cultural group, the exercise was the most difficult. This group had the oldest and most shared myths: the trickster (a mischievous animal) and an anthropogony with men from stone or clay shared between the subsoil and the surface. Body jewelry and paintings attest to esthetic sensitivity. Creativity was sufficient to populate just over half of the major types of climate zones (6/11), due to their presence on the African continent.

2. The first exit of anatomically modern humans from Africa and the Middle East was to South Asia, Sunda (a vast area emerging in Southeast Asia) and Sahul (an area emerging from Australia-Papua). Archaeological sites do not show any difference between the cultures of the first sites in India around 75 ka and those of the reference sites in Africa. The ubiquity index remained stable; the climatic zones used by these early pathways remained close to African situations. Human cultures retained an anthropogony and the trickster of the previous phase, to which was added a unique ritual of emergence (described, for example, by Durkheim [DUR 12]). The language group covered Melanesia, Australia, the Andaman Islands and Nepal. This period was undoubtedly that of a demographic low level and there were anatomically modern humans left in tropical areas and some refuges in Asia. The progression of Neanderthal cultures meant that Neanderthals came into contact with anatomically modern humans in the Middle East.

3. Around 45 ka, there was a rapid expansion towards the North and an interbreeding of anatomically modern humans. All climatic zones were inhabited by humans. The ubiquity ranged from partial to total. The diversification of the arts was achieved. Large linguistic groups appeared: proto-Basque, pre-nostratic, etc. Mythology attributed a life cycle to the world, adding creation to it, and the beginning of an eschatology induced by the idea of a reborn world. Cultures were diversified around large and different narrative schemas. Cosmogonies could be grouped into a few major types, which were themselves scattered around the globe. The first decorated caves included hands, indicating a recognition of a power of a natural element, and then a narrative diagram around an animal emerged. Thus, in the Maros cave, the representations of hands are dated 52 ka, while that of a babirusa of the Celebes about 40 ka. In the creation myth known as the cosmogonic diver*, an animal, usually a suidae, rises from the land of the sea floor and thus creates the emerged world [AUB 14].


Figure 1.7. Migration pathways and early cultures of anatomically modern humans. Source: [WIT 12]. For a color version of this figure, see www.iste.co.uk/alaktif/climate.zip

While the Apocalypses* (revelations of the unfolding of the end of the world) are relatively recent (appearing in the 3rd Century BCE, or 2.3 ka), the Geneses or myths of Creation are contemporary with the transition to the Upper Paleolithic. Only the simple ritual of emergence that precedes the myths of Creation has been described in detail in Durkheim’s book [DUR 12]. A figurative animal art replaced signs: the ritual of emergence was satisfied with the ostrich’s footprint to infuse the spirit of life into the animal. In the Chauvet Pont d'Arc cave, the representation of a spray of fire is not enough to characterize the volcano, which does not seem to lack life force. With this great power recognized by the ritual of the hands is associated an animal representation, in this case the great Irish elk. Thus, a spiritual hierarchy of the elements of nature, there are powers greater than others in the surrounding environment, preceding figurative art. In an emerging ritual, the ontology is “pneumatic”, all the elements of the environment are present in a “deflated” form, which the passage of the Spirit or the Breath periodically rekindles.

Paleolithic art presents a great diversity in its processes, themes and meanings [PAI 18]. The freedom of formal expression was achieved with respect to some narrative schemas, for example, a myth of Creation from the Upper Paleolithic. Several factors encouraged creativity: weak social control, a high level of shared knowledge of animal behavior, a lack of long-term conservation of major innovations and an environmental history rich in climatic risks. The multiplication of the arts consecrated this creativity in a first turning point that answers Yves Coppens’ question about the role of creativity in the hominization process.

1.5. The oboes of the Swabian Jura

The Aurignacian culture was the first European culture of the Upper Paleolithic. The sites in the Swabian Jura have delivered the oldest known statuettes, as well as seven flutes. In the cultural transformations of the Upper Paleolithic, there were changes in the instruments related to hunting, which did not offer any problem of understanding: the composition of the megafauna changed due to climatic risks, and hunting techniques adapted to this new context. The cultural transformation of the Upper Paleolithic is listed in the Jaspers-Lambert nomenclature as the affirmation of a hunting shamanism [LAM 14]. Its ontology was that of a differentiation of the types of souls that animated the powers of the environment. Differences in the representation of animal members indicated that it is an animal or an auxiliary spirit of a shaman. A superior mind had the representation of a therianthrope*, such as, for example, the Swabian “Venus” of Hohle Fels. The statuette was acephalous, the lower part representing a very enlarged female pubic triangle, the upper part composed of an animal breast, probably a bison, covered with a tunic with horizontal stripes. Hunting shamanism is mainly a shamanism of mediation of the shaman with a mother-of-animals, an interpretation of the Swabian “Venus”, this first art also reinforcing historians’ interpretations of the organization of beliefs in the Aurignacian society. The details of the Swabian “Venus” tunic indicate that this society mastered the production of well-fitting clothing, major know-how in a context of climate change. Mithen [MIT 91] explained that this combination of utilitarian and ecological explanations meets a limit, such as connecting a change of environment and the transformation of musical instruments. Aurignacian flutes, like the aulos of Ancient Greece, are classified by musicologists as belonging to the oboe family and require sophistication in their design and use. Many hypotheses have attempted to provide an initial explanation for this major cultural transition in the multiplication of the arts [COL 11] [PAI 18].

1.5.1. Climate change and the birth of the arts

The paradigm of the “race to the top” between biological adaptation and cultural creation can serve as a general framework but does not specify the mechanisms in the different stages of the history of human cultures according to climate change [COP 17]. When the climate gradually cooled down, the adaptation mechanisms were essentially biological, with the appearance of cultures using tools among some Homininae. Climate degradation continued, accelerating natural selection, while human cultures contributed to achieving conservation resilience. Climate volatility was worsening further, leading to transformative resilience with rapid cultural responses to climate change. In this context, on a very large temporal scale, from the Lower Paleolithic period non-utilitarian aspects appeared (e.g. production of various kinds of color ochers before more utilitarian uses of fire [LUM 17]), although there are still explanations of a utilitarian or spiritual nature. Useful explanations

One of the very first was the “magic of hunting”, defended by Abbé Breuil in the first half of the 20th Century. However, many species represented in Paleolithic art were not hunted, about two-thirds of them for an Aurignacian decorated cave like Chauvet Pont d’Arc. Cultural development can promote good hunting practices [MIT 91] and is an improved argument compared to Breuil’s original theory. However, in this case, why this cultural development took place is not explained.

A second type of approach, called “swan song”, highlights distress behavior in the face of climatic risks. This explanation links climate change and culture through a psychological response: humans overtaken by the situation emitted a last cry, the founder of culture. Many manifestations of rock art and parietal art date back to the installation of deserts or arid steppes: they establish a unified culture that was undoubtedly expressed in great distress in the face of desertification, which finally froze these cultural manifestations. However, rock and cave art developed in many places other than these peripheral situations of inexorable progression of arid zones. The catalog established by Anati indicates a universal coverage: all the first cultures had arts, and provided they had accessible caves, they had decorated caves [ANA 03].

The opposite theory has also been proposed, that of an art that was generated by the agglomeration of populations in refuge areas, oases in warm regions and their equivalent for cold steppes. These gardens of Eden would have provided abundant food resources, such as river salmon, which would have encouraged sedentarization. However, this theory does not explain in any way the themes that the artists treated in the decorated caves [MIT 91]. For Europe, the Franco-Cantabrian region included several hundred decorated caves spread over about 30,000 years. Climatic instability was very high: the maximum cold corresponds to the Lascaux period, hence the proposal to interpret this site as an oasis during cold periods. The culture of the decorated caves was very stable, the principles of representation remaining the same, while transformations were identified mainly for technical tools and practices. The Aurignacian artists of the Chauvet Pont d’Arc cave dealt five times with the theme of volcanic eruption by choosing colorful and spectacular phenomena such as Strombolian ejections. This was not a culture of distress. It is not accounted for by a “swan song” theory nor by that of the “Garden of Eden” or “hunting magic”. Spiritual explanations

Jean Clottes introduces a broad definition of spirituality, which is present from the moment of “the appearance of a thought that goes beyond the contingencies of day-to-day life” and that “questions itself about the world around it” ([COL 11], pp. 54-55). The first manifestations discussed of such concerns date back to the Lower Paleolithic and certainly to the Middle Paleolithic, i.e. prior to the episode of the multiplication of the arts that marked the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic. H. neanderthalensis had a spirituality that is reflected in archaeological sites, indicating an attachment to the bear, rituals related to individual burials and ceremonial sites. However, Neanderthals did not develop a figurative art, which differentiated them, in the present state of knowledge, from H. sapiens ([COL 11], pp. 64-65). The art of the Neanderthals was based more on singular plastic interventions.

A narrower definition of spirituality is introduced by Foucault: “it postulates that the subject must change, transform, move, become, to a certain extent and to a certain point, other than himself in order to have the right to access the truth” ([FOU 01b], p. 17). This definition corresponds well to what was encountered in the Upper Paleolithic: a subject who is transformed is almost equivalent to the definition of the shaman’s character. There was a long age of ocher, its only competition from the Upper Paleolithic being attempts at sweating, the paleo version of the sauna. This refers to a long history of spiritual corporalities, but whose unfolding is difficult to perceive, since it is not possible to access through the archaeological remains the details of the different practices associated with these massive ocher consumptions. The different explanations based on broad or restricted definitions of spirituality are therefore not divergent, encountering limitations mainly due to the inaccessibility of relevant data.

In Foucault’s approach, spirituality has two components, Eros and Askêsis, love and work, mystical and ascetic. The book by Bataille on Lascaux [BAT 55] already introduced these two aspects, but in a way that is now abandoned. The Neanderthals would have been, in the vision proposed by Bataille, figures damaged by work, reduced to creative silence because of incessant labor. The work would have been the first to develop, then would have come Eros and the arts. The Mousterian site of La Ferrassie, including eight graves of Neanderthals, had been excavated before the discovery of Lascaux. These funeral rituals of H. neanderthalensis were more or less contemporary (dating between 70 and 60 ka, the period of expansion of Neanderthals, and a demographic bottleneck for anatomically modern humans) with the incised eggs of H. sapiens in Africa, which were recently discovered. A symbolic funeral expression at La Ferrassie is sensitive through the arrangement of the tombs, the adult couple having an alignment of bodies head to head, while a tombstone of a 3-year-old child has a cup decoration. H. neanderthalensis had an early practice of individual burial with an associated symbolic expression. For spirituality, it was in the register of love, as evidenced, for example, by the care given to the child’s burial, and not just by the work as Bataille had assumed. A spirituality that was first inscribed in Eros, which then saw the dimension of Askêsis increase, was much more in conformity with the very long historical sequence, which witnessed successive symbolic modifications heralding the formation of the productive economy. Still, in Bataille’s case, the image of H. neanderthalensis remains trapped in the status of an intermediary between human and beast, in a chain turned towards the past, and not that of becoming relatively close to human cultures.

Aurignacian flutes required a craft developed for their manufacture and a complex learning process for their use. They testify to a strengthening of work in the combination Eros and Askêsis, since they required a very qualified work for both their manufacture and their use. The Aurignacian “Venus”, theromorphic and with an oversized pubic triangle, probably indicates that the transformation of the subject still remained mainly on the side of Eros.

The spiritual explanation indicates several changes that took place in conjunction with the birth of the arts. Art is figurative, while ontology becomes more complex, compared to previous ontologies that may have focused on a totemic animal or a breath of life, such as the water in the gourds of the Middle Paleolithic. The powers of the environment acquire differentiated statuses, perceptible by a knowledge that is difficult to acquire. While the subsequent major cultural transformations made the ascetic aspect of the combination of love and work in spirituality play an increasing role, the birth of the arts was undoubtedly an introductory and decisive step.

1.5.2. European cultures of the Upper Paleolithic and Heinrich events

Table 1.1. Abrupt cold variations and European Paleolithic cultures

Intervals between Heinrich events Climate Culture Creativity
From H5 to H4 Ancient interpleniglacial Châtelperonian Arrival of anatomically modern humans, portable art from the Swabian Jura
H4 to H3 Interpleniglacary Aurignacian Ornate caves: Chauvet
H3 to H2 Ancient Pleniglacial Gravettian Funeral art: Cussac; Pavlov’s ceramics
H2 to H1 Glacial maximum Solutrean and Badegoulian Either the improvement of stone tools or simple survival
H1 to Dryas Pleniglacial Magdalenian The largest number of decorated caves; beginning of the monumental sculpture
Dryas (last sudden cold variations) Tardiglacial, late Paleolithic Azilian Symbolic geometric representations

The situation of Europe in the Upper Paleolithic is interesting because the region was an entity subject to particularly intense climatic risks, while the series of decorated caves was quite complete, covering 30,000 years of succession of different cultures documented in many archaeological sites [DJI 99]. Despite these conditions of great climate volatility, human creativity was preserved in these hunter-gatherer societies of Upper Paleolithic Europe, with a shamanic spirituality and great technical and cultural stability. However, climate instability probably contributed to a succession of culture revisions that provided some of the preconditions for the productive economy. In a way, the great “cicada” turning point in the multiplication of the arts in the Upper Paleolithic saw a succession of particularly severe climatic changes. These great climatic winters were those brought about by the Heinrich events, brutal cold weathering of the climate in the Northern Hemisphere, the traces of which remain well marked in the cores of the ocean beds of the North Atlantic.

The cultures of Upper Paleolithic Europe were determined by similarities in tools and artistic productions as early as the 19th Century, and this succession of cultures corresponded in a somewhat surprising and unexpected way to the succession of intervals between two Heinrich events.

In the Chauvet Pont d’Arc cave, a representation of a reindeer is deliberately degraded. Large herbivores, mammoths, horses and bison needed to graze on grass or foliage, while reindeer were satisfied with the lichens of the tundra. Reindeer, mute swans and seaside marine animals formed food resources beyond a climatic zone boundary that marked the entrance into the tundra. This limit varied by 2000 km in latitude for Europe depending on the climate, but only by 500 km in the southernmost part of the country during the Ice Age due to the presence of a very large ice sheet centered on Scandinavia. The northern limits of human occupation varied in the Upper European Paleolithic period from present-day England (early in the period, around 50–45 ka) to the mouth of the Loire (for the last glacial maximum). If references to reindeer disappear, it means that the climate is warming rapidly. Human groups in periglacial areas have portable art, with little access to caves or rock shelters. Cave or rock art artists of the early Upper Paleolithic were generally those of areas with large herbivores, horse, bison and mammoths.

Neanderthal cultures disappeared from archaeological exploration as early as H4, a very marked and sudden cold variation to which a volcanic winter was added, due to the explosion of the super-volcano on the Phlegrean Fields in Campania (39 ka). The earlier period saw the arrival of the first anatomically modern humans, in cohabitation with the Neanderthals. The Aurignacian culture after H4 was very homogeneous. Blacker [BLA 99] introduced a distinction between the shamanism of the medium and that of the ascetic. Based on this typology, Aurignacian shamanism seems to be mainly of a medium type. It is a matter of coming into contact with spiritual entities and possibly intervening for a risk (disease, bad weather, shortage of game).

The art of the Franco-Cantabric caves was a great cultural unity for 30 millennia, but the Gravettian period saw the displacement of a cultural epicenter towards Central Europe, with habitats located in the steppes and composed of several shacks. The climate had a long-term trend towards degradation. Human groups then retreated towards coastal areas, which explains the location of sites such as the Cosquer cave. Dolni Vestonice’s Gravettian “Venus” in fired clay has a sad expression, while a representation of a tuber woman is associated with funeral practices in the Cussac cave. A tuber can produce a new plant, and tuber consumption increases with climatic deterioration. A cold arid steppe, if it does not have frozen ground, has a biomass composed mainly of tubers. The period of greatest cold is associated with more female representations with thinner hips. Female representations with larger hips were less present in the coldest periods, while adaptation to the cold rounded out the silhouettes (see Table 1.2).

Table 1.2. Wide and narrow female silhouettes in European Paleolithic art. Source: [COH 03]

(number of collections of the same type of silhouette) Wide hips Narrow hips Wide/thin difference
Aurignacian and Gravettian 8 3 + 5
Solutrean and Magdalenian 4 9 -5
Mesolithic and Neolithic 11 8 + 3

The Gravettian representations of hands with folded fingers suggest the appearance of a theme of “costly” creation, instead of simply participating in a generosity of powerful natural power – that of the ritual of the Aurignacians’ open hand. Life is given and resumed. Female representations followed the different stages of childbirth, creation being then a detailed process composed of sacred stages. It has its risks and its social utility. This evolution confirms a formulation of a general hypothesis that can be formulated as follows: high climate volatility promoted the ascetic aspect in the combination between love and work.

The last glacial maximum added more cold. Representations were those of penguin men crossed or tied by ties or spears, between two mammoths, or hung from an easel, perhaps a scaffolding easel used in the preparation of leather; the interpretation of these signs of the Placard cave has not stabilized. The “hanged man” from the Pech-Merle cave is a drawing dated from the Solutrean ([COL 08], p. 132). Signs of the type found in the Placard cave are also found in a geographical area that extends from the Charente to the Cosquer cave on the shores of the Mediterranean. They can be dated back to the Solutrean, the coldest period of the last glaciation. The signs of the Placard cave are an indication of a Solutrean culture for the group of caves located furthest north, and thus mark the birth of a culture around a shamanism with a more assertive ascetic component. “The situation is different in Eastern Europe where technical practices, always in continuity, do not present a radical adaptation”; this culture is referred to as Epigravettian ([DJI 99], p. 318).

The movement of recolonization of the northern European borders from the southwest was that of the Magdalenian culture, from 17 ka. The artistic development is considered major, notably that of a tool made of bone materials. The melting of glaciers caused rivers to swell and become migration routes. The radiant auroch of Plougastel-Daoulas indicates a major “solar” cesura. Its proposed date is 14 ka. The latest manifestations of sudden cold variation are called “Dryas” and correspond to a period of new technological standardization in Europe, with the widespread use of the bow ([DJI 99], p. 319).

1.6. Discussion

In summary, the last sequence of transition from an Ice Age to a hot and humid climatic optimum (i.e. between 22 and 8 ka) allows us to formulate a hypothesis of a link between the climatic gradient and technological convergence. An extremely disturbed climate promotes technological harmonization, as indicated in the conclusions on the Mesolithic [DJI 99], which is a period of maximum climatic gradient. On the contrary, high climate stability promotes unequal states of technology in human groups.

Extremes of heat or cold can be characterized by an absence of variations in climatic variables: the climate is very cold or very hot, but very stable. This situation promotes a resilient group, while most other human groups disappear or are content with survival strategies with simplified technological content. This phenomenon is one of technological divergence: the remaining human groups exist with great technological differences between them. If the resilient group causes subsequent catchup, then it is a development sequence, with alignment to resilient practices. In the last glacial maximum, it may be noted that many of the innovative practices of the earlier ages were somehow put in brackets and reappeared in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. The resilient group only carries part of the technological knowledge.

For the Holocene climatic optimum, the pioneering group of the first farmers had previously been formed. Agriculture prevailed by progressing with a pioneering front moving at a speed of one kilometer per year. The trophic model* suggests that a hot and humid period was marked by the fragmentation of human groups. Sedentarization was facilitated locally by a greater availability of resources and by the increase in forest cover. The progress of the pioneer group of farmers was linked to the decline of the forest, so the situation was one of a sustained technological difference between a pioneer group whose progress was hindered and other human groups. A pioneering front separated farmers and hunter-gatherers.

A period of high climatic instability led to perceptible environmental differences in the course of a single human life. Climate instability introduced a spatial redistribution of fishing, hunting and gathering areas. Technological development, such as the European Mesolithic bow and pirogue, probably available for a long time, became systematically used by most human groups.

Creativity should be defined more as potential. The conquest of ubiquity was completed in the Upper Paleolithic, and it was a cultural expansion that allowed the greatest climatic deterioration to be overcome, leading to extreme cold, while the biological processes of adaptation to cold of species in the genus Homo, even accompanied by fire cultures, only led to extinction. Management of the cold was not satisfactorily acquired in the Middle Paleolithic, a period when fire uses became routine. The Upper Paleolithic, with the diversification of the arts, put creativity at the heart of human practices.

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