Department of Social Sciences

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  • Tracing the earliest footsteps of humankind

    Professor Adrian Parker is an expert in physical geography and geoarchaeology. He mapped, analysed and dated archaeological sites in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for this project tracing humankind’s route out of Africa.

    Tracing the earliest footsteps of humankindProfessor Parker also reconstructs past environmental conditions in Saudi Arabia and Africa in order to understand the relationship between early humans and their environments over time.

    Below, he talks in more detail about finding the clues which change our understanding of the date our earliest relatives left Africa and the route they took:

    Finding the missing piece of the puzzle

    “The findings from our excavations at Jebel Faya in eastern Arabia provide a missing piece in the jigsaw of modern human migration from Africa and the spread of humans across the globe.

    “The results show that humans left Africa at least 50,000 years earlier than previously suggested. Additionally, climate and environment were also crucial to when and how humans left Africa and, ultimately, to our existence today.”

    The clues beneath the sands

    “My role was to reconstruct past climate and environmental conditions in order to understand how humans came to occupy the site.

    “This involved extensive mapping of the landscape and sampling, dating sand dunes and ancient lakes. I analysed the sediments in which stone tools were found to establish how and when the site was formed. We could then create a detailed picture of climate and landscape change that occurred.

    “We compared the information with sea-level change records for the Red Sea to identify whether humans could have left Africa via the ‘Southern Route’ (from the coast of modern-day Eritrea) and across the Arabian sub-continent.”

    Understanding extremes of climate

    “My research showed that dramatic wet and dry periods have occurred in the past across Arabia and were driven by changes in the position of the Indian Ocean Monsoon and Westerly systems.

    “Understanding these changes in climate and environmental conditions are the key to when humans could have left Africa and colonised the rest of the globe.”