Last Glacial Period

The Last Glacial Period (LGP), also known colloquially as the last ice age or simply ice age,[1] occurred from the end of the Eemian to the end of the Younger Dryas, encompassing the period c.115,000 – c.11,700 years ago. The LGP is part of a larger sequence of glacial and interglacial periods known as the Quaternary glaciation which started around 2,588,000 years ago and is ongoing.[2] The definition of the Quaternary as beginning 2.58 million years ago (Mya) is based on the formation of the Arctic ice cap. The Antarctic ice sheet began to form earlier, at about 34 Mya, in the mid-Cenozoic (Eocene–Oligocene extinction event). The term Late Cenozoic Ice Age is used to include this early phase.[3] The previous ice age, the Saale glaciation, which ended about 128,000 years ago, was more severe than the Last Glacial Period in some areas such as Britain, but less severe in others.

Chronology of climatic events of importance for the last glacial period (about the last 120,000 years)

During this last glacial period, alternating episodes of glacier advance, and retreat occurred. Within the last glacial period, the Last Glacial Maximum was approximately 22,000 years ago. While the general pattern of global cooling and glacier advance was similar, local differences in the development of glacier advance and retreat make comparing the details from continent to continent difficult (see picture of ice core data below for differences). Around 12,800 years ago, the Younger Dryas, the most recent glacial epoch, began, a coda to the preceding 100,000-year glacial period. Its end about 11,550 years ago marked the beginning of the Holocene, the current geological epoch.

From the point of view of human archaeology, the LGP falls in the Paleolithic and early Mesolithic periods. When the glaciation event started, Homo sapiens was confined to lower latitudes and used tools comparable to those used by Neanderthals in western and central Eurasia and by Denisovans and Homo erectus in Asia. Archaeological and genetic data suggest that the source populations of Paleolithic humans survived the LGP in sparsely wooded areas, and dispersed through areas of high primary productivity, while avoiding dense forest cover.[4]

Artist's impression of the last glacial period at glacial maximum[5]

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