Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 111–144 | Cite as

Deglaciation and Human Colonization of Northern Europe

  • Brian T. Wygal
  • Stephan M. Heidenreich


Few places worldwide experienced Late Glacial ecological shifts as drastic as those seen in the areas covered by, or adjacent to, the massive ice sheets that blanketed much of the northern hemisphere. Among the most heavily glaciated regions, northern Europe underwent substantial ecological shifts during and after the Last Glacial Maximum. The climatically unstable Pleistocene–Holocene transition repeatedly transformed far-northern Europe, placing it among the last regions to be colonized by Paleolithic societies. As such, it shares paleoenvironmental and archaeological analogues with other once glaciated areas where human populations, entrenched in periglacial environments prior to glacier retreat, spread into newly deglaciated territories. Perhaps most significant for northern Europeans were post-glacial effects of the Younger Dryas and Preboreal periods, as shifts in climate, plant, and animal communities elicited several adaptive responses including innovation, exploration, and the eventual settlement of once glaciated landscapes. This paper is a detailed review of existing archaeological and paleoecological evidence pertaining to the Late Upper Paleolithic of northern Europe, and offers theoretical observations on human colonization models and ecological responses to large-scale stadial and interstadial events.


Northern Europe Late Upper Paleolithic Deglaciation Younger Dryas Human colonization 



We thank the two anonymous reviewers and editors for their insightful and constructive commentary that greatly improved this paper. Bernhard Weninger graciously provided the latest version of CalPal software equipped with the most recent climate curve data. Finally, we appreciate suggestions by Gary Haynes and Ted Goebel for encouraging the pursuit of this research.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyAdelphi UniversityGarden CityUSA
  2. 2.Landesamt für Denkmalpflege im Regierungspräsidium StuttgartEsslingen am NeckarGermany

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