The fundamental hominin niche in late Pleistocene Central Asia: a preliminary refugium model




We examine hominin presence in Central Asia during the late Pleistocene in order to identify the abiotic characteristics that best predict site distribution during interglacial and glacial periods. Our goal is to build a preliminary framework for climate-mediated hominin dispersals in this understudied part of the Old World.


Tajikistan, Uzbekistan.


We developed an ecological niche model using presence-only data to explain the spatial relationship of abiotic variables and hominin locations (= 15) during glacial–interglacial transitions. The model was evaluated using the Cramér–von Mises goodness-of-fit statistic and empirical K-function.


Hominin locations were spatially aggregated during both glacial and interglacial periods. Of the abiotic variables analysed on a small scale (30-m resolution), only distance to water differed significantly between glacial and interglacial periods, although most locations were within 5 km of water. At a coarse scale (5-km resolution), hominin locations appear to have been constrained by low temperatures during glacial periods, but not during interglacials.

Main conclusions

Hominin groups did not abandon Central Asia during colder periods. This suggests one of three possibly complementary scenarios: (1) late Pleistocene hominin groups had a more flexible behavioural repertoire than previously anticipated and were able to buffer climatic instability culturally; (2) our study area was not as hostile an environment as traditionally considered; and (3) the area examined here represents a refugium during late Pleistocene glaciations.