Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 1–41 | Cite as

Would North American Paleoindians have Noticed Younger Dryas Age Climate Changes?

  • David J. MeltzerEmail author
  • Vance T. Holliday
Original Paper


Paleoindian groups occupied North America throughout the Younger Dryas Chronozone. It is often assumed that cooling temperatures during this interval, and the impact these would have had on biotic communities, posed significant adaptive challenges to those groups. That assessment of the nature, severity and abruptness of Younger Dryas changes is largely based on ice core records from the Greenland ice sheet where changes were indeed dramatic. This paper reviews climatic and environmental records from this time period in continental North America. We conclude that, on the Great Plains and in the Rocky Mountains, conditions were in reality less extreme. It therefore follows that conditions during the Younger Dryas interval may not have measurably added to the challenge routinely faced by Paleoindian groups who, during this interval, successfully (and perhaps rapidly) dispersed across the diverse habitats of Late Glacial North America.


Younger Dryas Paleoindian North America Hunter-gatherer adaptations 



We are extremely grateful to Daniel H. Mann and Cathy Whitlock, who both gave this paper a thorough and much needed vetting. If we have managed to dodge all the potential pitfalls on this complicated and sometimes controversial landscape, it is surely due to their help. We would also like to thank Wally Broecker for discussions and copies of his latest work. Christy Briles tipped us off to (and helped get us started with) Phil Higuera’s valuable MCAge Depth program, and Phil himself came to the rescue when we hit a program snag. Support for this research was provided by the Quest Archaeological Research Fund and the Potts and Sibley Foundation (to DJM), and the Argonaut Archaeological Research Fund (to VTH).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologySouthern Methodist UniversityDallasUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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