The British are notably obsessed with the weather, even though Oscar Wilde once remarked that, conversationally, it was the last refuge of the unimaginative.

But a new study suggests that our ability to understand and adapt to huge ranges of climate and weather systems is what truly makes us human.

Researchers reviewed ancient fossils and landscapes and found that what separates us from other forms of early man was our ability to flourish in even the most extreme environments, from searingly hot deserts and tropical jungles, to icy mountains and wastelands.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, claim that ability was far more important than art, language or technology, at setting us apart from other hominids, such as Neanderthals or Homo erectus, who also had rich cultures, yet still died out.

Not only did Homo sapiens survive in harsh landscapes but they thrived there, learning to become ‘generalist specialists’ who could out-compete those around them no matter what the environment.

“Definitions of our species have tended to focus on differences in capacities for symbolism, language, social networking, technological competence and cognitive development,” said Dr Patrick Robert, of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

“We argue, based on comparison with the available information for other members of the genus Homo, that our species developed a new ecological niche, that of the ‘generalist specialist’.

“Understanding this ecological niche provides a framework for discussing what it means to be human and how our species became the last surviving hominin on the planet.”


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