SaveSave story

Earthworms left clues of ancient climate for Neanderthals

Pierre Antoine

Earthworms left behind calcite crystals (essentially their feces) and they may be the most precise way to measure climate conditions during the last Ice Age in northern Europe.

In a new study, researchers turned to these crystals — which were ever-present in the top layers of soil and just a few inches below the permafrost for tens of thousands of years — as the basis of radiocarbon dating and uncovered new information about the climate in ancient times.

Why it matters: Scientists continue to argue about why and how Neanderthals died out in northern Europe some 40,000 years ago as modern humans moved into their territory. Climate conditions almost certainly played in the transition, but anthropologists and paleo-climatologists have struggled to define the climate during and immediately after the Ice Age began to retreat because there is a scarcity of organic remains like wood, charcoal and bone to test.