October 21, 2008

The Campanian Ignimbrite eruption

Some general info on this event can be found here.

Journal of Human Evolution doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2008.08.018

From the Bay of Naples to the River Don: the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption and the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in Eastern Europe

John F. Hoffecker et al.


The Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption, dated by 40Ar/39Ar and various stratigraphic methods to ca. 39,000 cal BP, generated a massive ash plume from its source in southern Italy across Southeastern and Eastern Europe. At the Kostenki-Borshchevo open-air sites on the Middle Don River in Russia, Upper Paleolithic artifact assemblages are buried below, within, and above the CI tephra (which is redeposited by slope action at most sites) on the second terrace. Luminescence and radiocarbon dating, paleomagnetism, and soil and pollen stratigraphy provide further basis for correlation with the Greenland and North Atlantic climate stratigraphy. The oldest Upper Paleolithic occupation layers at Kostenki-Borshchevo may be broadly correlated with warm intervals that preceded the CI event and Heinrich Event 4 (HE4; Greenland Interstadial: GI 12–GI 9) dating to ca. 45,000–41,000 cal BP. These layers contain an industry not currently recognized in other parts of Europe. Early Upper Paleolithic layers above the CI tephra are correlated with HE4 and warm intervals that occurred during 38,000–30,000 cal BP (GI 8–GI 5), and include an assemblage that is assigned to the Aurigancian industry, associated with skeletal remains of modern humans.


  1. The interesting question about this post is: What was the impact on the Aurignacian population?? The whole theme of "disasters" is not much liked by many people. Velikovsky, is the classic case of someone who was castigated for his opinions. I am of the opinion that Meltwater Pulses 1 - 4 affected population size from 14K BP to 8K BP??. Yet most people discount any affects from these changes?? Certainly Doggerland disappeared as the Ocean level rose 200 meters over that period of time. Volcanic activity and the ending of the Ice Age created severe environmental impacts and I don't understand why people deny their importance on population size???

  2. I am not sure Volcanic disasters ever had the type of mega impact which some scientists often claim.

  3. These folks entered Europe in small groups of perhaps 50 people or so, initially maybe no more than a handful of such groups. If they found ideal conditions that they were prepared for, they could have doubled in a generation, or built up to several hundred thousand within as little as 250 years. As such, even ash fallout covering a third of Europe or so would have had little impact on the population.

    However, to me it looks like all of these early Aurignacian cultures were quite opportunistic and lacked sophistication and preparedness for the cold event to follow. Without innovation, the eruption and cold combined would have drastically reduced the area that they then knew to exploit (also when considering that much of Southern Europe was a dry and barren waste scape) - perhaps by as much as 80%.

    The resulting population pressure and availability of (previously unknown or out-of-reach) exploitable resources could have led to innovation. In my opinion, the larger and arguably more sophisticated pool of people in the East, some of them already better adapted at exploiting colder environments, would have at least made their fair contribution to this, if they did not dominate the process.

    At any rate, to me it seems that the eruption and subsequent cold event likely had a huge cultural impact, perhaps being largely responsible for the incredibly fast UP cultural (r)evolution immediately following.

  4. Eurologist. That's pretty much how I see it. Small groups moving into Souther Europe, probably mostly via Anatolia. But with what used to be called the Gravettian a much greater movement fro the east of people adapted to the cold, probably mainly through the development of sewn skin clothing.

  5. I am trying to find out where the vestigial site of this super eruption is - southern Italy is quite a big area - I would expect to see some evidence as in the caldera on Theraanyone know?


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