The Oldest Dryas[a] is a biostratigraphic subdivision layer corresponding to a relatively abrupt climatic cooling event, or stadial, which occurred during the last glacial retreat. The time period to which the layer corresponds is poorly defined and varies between regions, but it is generally dated as starting at 18.5–17 thousand years (ka) before present (BP) and ending 15–14 ka BP. As with the Younger and Older Dryas events, the stratigraphic layer is marked by abundance of the pollen and other remains of Dryas octopetala, an indicator species that colonizes arctic-alpine regions.
In the Alps, the Oldest Dryas corresponds to the Gschnitz stadial of the Würm glaciation. The term was originally defined specifically for terrestrial records in the region of Scandinavia, but has come to be used both for ice core stratigraphy in areas across the world, and to refer to the time period itself and its associated temporary reversal of the glacial retreat.
During the Oldest Dryas, Europe was treeless and similar to the Arctic tundra, but much drier and grassier than the modern tundra. It contained shrubs and herbaceous plants such as the following:
Grassland (Inner Mongolia)
Species were mainly Arctic but during the Glacial Maximum, the warmer weather species had withdrawn into refugia and began to repopulate Europe in the Oldest Dryas.
The brown bear, Ursos arctos, was among the first to arrive in the north. Genetic studies indicate North European brown bears came from a refugium in the Carpathians of Moldavia. Other refugia were in Italy, Spain and Greece.
The bears would not have returned north except in pursuit of food. The tundra must already have been well populated. It is likely that the species hunted by humans at Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland by the end of the period were present during it. Here are other animals present:
The above birds are primarily maritime. They must have fed in the copious glacial waters of the north that were just beginning to be released.
The smaller mammals of the food chain inhabited the herbaceous blanket of the tundra:
- Lepus timidus, Arctic hare
- Marmota marmota, marmot
In addition to bears and birds were other predators of the following small animals:
Humans were interested in the large mammals, which included:
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- the Holocene
- High-resolution studies of lake sediments
- Glaciers and Climate in Western Austria
- Late Glacial Shetland
- Chronology of Climatic Change During the Last Deglaciation
- Late Glacial Ice Advances in Maritime Canada
- The Venus of Neuchatel
- Brown Bears