The Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) volcanic eruption was the most explosive in Europe in the last 200,000 years. The event coincided with the onset of an extremely cold climatic phase known as Heinrich Event 4 (HE4) approximately 40,000 years ago. Their combined effect may have exacerbated the severity of the climate through positive feedbacks across Europe and possibly globally. The CI event is of particular interest not only to investigate the role of volcanism on climate forcing and palaeoenvironments, but also because its timing coincides with the arrival into Europe of anatomically modern humans, the demise of Neanderthals, and an associated major shift in lithic technology. At this stage, however, the degree of interaction between these factors is poorly known, based on fragmentary and widely dispersed data points. In this study we provide important new data from Eastern Europe which indicate that the magnitude of the CI eruption and impact of associated distal ash (tephra) deposits may have been substantially greater than existing models suggest. The scale of the eruption is modelled by tephra distribution and thickness, supported by local data points. CI ashfall extends as far as the Russian Plain, Eastern Mediterranean and northern Africa. However, modelling input is limited by very few data points in Eastern Europe. Here we investigate an unexpectedly thick CI tephra deposit in the southeast Romanian loess steppe, positively identified using geochemical and geochronological analyses. We establish the tephra as a widespread primary deposit, which blanketed the topography both thickly and rapidly, with potentially catastrophic impacts on local ecosystems. Our discovery not only highlights the need to reassess models for the magnitude of the eruption and its role in climatic transition, but also suggests that it may have substantially influenced hominin population and subsistence dynamics in a region strategic for human migration into Europe.
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