This review presents the themes of a special issue dealing with environmental scenarios of human evolution during the Early Pleistocene (2.6–0.78 Ma; MIS 103-MIS 19) and early Middle Pleistocene (0.78–0.47 Ma; MIS 19-base of MIS 12) within the western Palaearctic. This period is one of dramatic changes in the climates and the distribution of Palaearctic biota. These changes have played their role in generating adaptive and phyletic patterns within the human ancestry, involving several species such as Homo habilis, “Homo georgicus”, Homo erectus, Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis. In the archaeological record, these species include the Oldowan (Mode 1) and Acheulian (Mode 2) lithic technologies. Taphonomic considerations of palaeoecological research in hominin-bearing sites are provided and evaluated. Syntheses are provided for north Africa, western Asia, the Mediterranean Basin, Britain, and continental Europe. Palaeoenvironmental reconstructions based on multidisciplinary data are given for Ain Boucherit, Ain Hanech and El-Kherba in Algeria, Dmanisi in Georgia, Atapuerca, Cueva Negra, and the Orce Basin in Spain, Monte Poggiolo and Pirro Nord in Italy, Pont-de-Lavaud in France, and Mauer in Germany. The state of the art with the Out of Africa 1 dispersal model is reviewed. A source-sink dynamics model for Palaeolithic Europe is described to explain the morphological disparity of H. heidelbergensis (we will sometimes use the informal name “Heidelbergs”) and early Neanderthals. Other aspects debated here are the selective value of habitat mosaics including reconstructions based on mammal and avian databases, and the role of geological instability combined with topographic complexity. This review is completed by addressing the question of whether the appearance of evolutionary trends within hominins is concentrated in regions of highest worldwide biological diversity (biodiversity hotspots). It is concluded that the keys for the activation of evolutionary change in hominins may have been geological instabilities, and a shifting physiographical heterogeneity combined with high biodiversity and ecological interaction.
Early Human Evolution in the Western Palaearctic: Ecological Scenarios. Available from: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/229308964_Early_Human_Evolution_in_the_Western_Palaearctic_Ecological_Scenarios [accessed Oct 10, 2015].