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30 November 2012
Early settlers migrated to Sicily during the last Ice Age.

The analysis of human skeletal remains found in the Grotta d'Oriente Cave on the island of Favignana (Italy), show that modern humans first settled in Sicily from mainland Italy during the last Ice Age, and that, although they were island dwellers, consumed little seafood, subsisting mostly on terrestrial food sources.
     The study, led by Marcello Mannino of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, revealed results from a combination of tests and analyses using mitochondrial DNA data, AMS radiocarbon dating, and isotopic analysis on skeletal finds and associated remains of human skeletons, particularly that of skeletal specimen 'Oriente B', unearthed in the cave during archaeological campaigns in 1972 and 2005.
     The analysis revealed the time when humans reached the islands of Favignana and Levanzo near western Sicily. These islands were connected to mainland Sicily until the first few millennia of the Holocene Epoch, a geological epoch which began around 12,000 radiocarbon years ago, when seal levels were low as a result of the Glacial Maxima of the last Ice Age.
     Said Mannino, "The definitive peopling of Sicily by modern humans only occurred at the peak of the last Ice Age, around 19,000 -26,500 years ago, when sea levels were low enough to expose a land bridge between the island and the Italian peninsula". Dating and morphological examination of the skeletal remains confirmed that the early settlers were modern humans.
     The study results also showed that these settlers were not fishermen, despite their island environment. They subsisted on terrestrial animals rather than marine sources for meat. Moreover, according to their analysis, this hunter-gatherer lifestyle likely persisted even as sea levels rose during the time of their occupation of the island environment. The authors conclude that "the limited development of technologies for intensively exploiting marine resources was probably a consequence both of Mediterranean oligotrophy [a water constitution poor in plant nutrient minerals and organisms and rich in oxygen] and of the small effective population size of these increasingly isolated human groups, which made innovation less likely and prevented transmission of fitness-enhancing adaptations".
     
Edited from Popular Archaeology (27 November 2012), ScienceDaily (28 November 2012)

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