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School of Social Sciences
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
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This paper presents the key findings of a multidisciplinary study investigating the nature and timing of coastal landscape evolution in eastern Saudi Arabia during the Holocene. To date, most sea level reconstructions for the Arabo-Persian Gulf are based on uncalibrated 14C ages without correction for marine reservoir effects, or lack precision with regard to the effects of neotectonic changes, indicators of sea level used, errors in elevation of sedimentary units used, and the relationship with actual tides. As a consequence, the nature and timing of relative sea level (RSL) changes during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene remain poorly understood. To help address this, we use sea level index points (SLIPs) based on calibrated 14C ages to present a RSL curve for the central-southern Gulf of Saudi Arabia from coastal sabkha deposits near the archaeological site of Dosariyah. The sediments record rapid transgression during the early Holocene with a midHolocene high-stand immediately prior to 6880–6560 cal. BP when the upper limit for the palaeo Mean Highest High tide water (MHHW) was 2.8–3.10 m above present day mean sea level. Transgression continued until shortly after 5575–5310 cal. BP with an upper limit to the palaeo-MHHW of 3.75 m above present sea levels. Thereafter a fall in RSL was recorded, with the regression leading to the progradation of the coastal system and the development of coastal sabkhas. Nonetheless later transgressions are recorded in the region between 4848–4536 and 4335–3949 cal BP. Radiometric dating results from archaeological excavations at Dosariyah, one of the most important Neolithic coastal sites in the Gulf, suggest that occupation of the site during the Neolithic coincides with the mid-Holocene marine transgression (ca. 7200 – 6500 cal. BP). Whilst the close proximity of the site to the sea may have facilitated maritime exchange activities, occupation of the site was short-lived and the phase of abandonment occurred during a period of rapid RSL rise, which would have transformed the area around Dosariyah into an island or certainly cut it off tidally from the mainland.
Records of former lake and wetland development in present day arid/hyper-arid environments provide an important source of information for palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental studies. In Arabia, such records are typically confined to eccentricity-modulated insolation maxima, and are often spatially and temporally discontinuous. Here we present records from a single locality in Northern Arabia of wetter interludes during both global interglacial and glacial conditions, providing a unique opportunity to examine the nature of these events in a common setting. At Jubbah, in the southern Nefud Desert, lake and wetland deposits reveal the repeated formation of a water body within a large endorheic basin over the past ca. 360 kyr. Lake/wetland formation occurred during MIS 11/9, 7, 5, 3 and the early Holocene, assisted by local topographic controls, and spring recharge. Palaeoenvironmental and palaeoecological data reveal the existence of a large still water body formed during either MIS 11 or 9 (ca. 363 ka), and basin wide alluviation followed by lake formation during MIS 7 (ca. 212 ka). During MIS 5e (ca. 130 ka) a large freshwater lake occupied the basin, while during MIS 5a (ca. 80 ka) the basin contained a shallow wetland and freshwater lake complex. Lake/wetland formation also occurred during early MIS 3 (ca. 60 ka), at the Terminal Pleistocene-Holocene transition (ca. 12.5 ka), and the early-middle Holocene (ca. 9-6.5 ka). Phases of lake and wetland development coincided with human occupation of the basin during the Middle Palaeolithic, Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic periods, highlighting the significance of the region for early demographic change.
The dispersal of human populations out of Africa into Arabia was most likely linked to episodes of climatic amelioration, when increased monsoon rainfall led to the activation of drainage systems, improved freshwater availability, and the development of regional vegetation. Here we present the first dated terrestrial record from southeast Arabia that provides evidence for increased rainfall and the expansion of vegetation during both glacial and interglacial periods. Findings from extensive alluvial fan deposits indicate that drainage system activation occurred during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 6 (ca. 160–150 ka), MIS 5 (ca. 130–75 ka), and during early MIS 3 (ca. 55 ka). The development of active freshwater systems during these periods corresponds with monsoon intensity increases during insolation maxima, suggesting that humid periods in Arabia were not confined to eccentricity-paced deglaciations, and providing paleoenvironmental support for multiple windows of opportunity for dispersal out of Africa during the late Pleistocene.
The transition from the Terminal Pleistocene to the Early Holocene is poorly represented in the geological and archaeological records of northern Arabia, and the climatic conditions that prevailed in the region during that period are unclear. Here, we present a new record from the site of Al-Rabyah, in the Jubbah basin (southern Nefud desert, Saudi Arabia), where a sequence of fossiliferous lacustrine and palustrine deposits containing an archaeological assemblage is preserved. Sedimentological and palaeoenvironmental investigations, both at Al-Rabyah and elsewhere in the Jubbah area, indicate phases of humid conditions, during which shallow lakes developed in the basin, separated by drier periods. At Al-Rabyah, the end of a Terminal Pleistocene phase of lake expansion has been dated to ∼12.2 ka using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), with a mid-Holocene humid phase dated to after ∼6.6 ka. Palaeoecological reconstructions based primarily on non-marine molluscs and ostracods from the younger lacustrine deposits indicate a relatively shallow body of freshwater surrounded by moist, well-vegetated environments. A lithic assemblage characterized by bladelets and geometric microliths was excavated from sediments attributed to a drier climatic phase dated to ∼10.1 ka. The lithic artefact types exhibit similarities to Epipalaeolithic industries of the Levant, and their occurrence well beyond the ‘core region’ of such assemblages (and at a significantly later date) has important implications for understanding interactions between Levantine and Arabian populations during the Terminal Pleistocene–Early Holocene. We suggest that the presence of foraging populations in the southern Nefud during periods of drier climate is due to the prolonged presence of a freshwater oasis in the Jubbah Basin during the Terminal Pleistocene–Early Holocene, which enabled them to subsist in the region when neighbouring areas of northern Arabia and the Levant were increasingly hostile.
Climatic changes in Arabia are of critical importance to our understanding of both monsoon variability and the dispersal of anatomically modern humans (AMH) out of Africa. The timing of dispersal is associated with the occurrence of pluvial periods during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 (ca. 130–74 ka), after which arid conditions between ca. 74 and 10.5 ka are thought to have restricted further migration and range expansion within the Arabian interior. Whilst a number of records indicate that this phase of aridity was punctuated by an increase in monsoon strength during MIS 3, uncertainties regarding the precision of terrestrial records and suitability of marine archives as records of precipitation, mean that the occurrence of this pluvial remains debated. Here we present evidence from a series of relict lake deposits within southeastern Arabia, which formed at the onset of MIS 3 (ca. 61–58 ka). At this time, the incursion of monsoon rainfall into the Arabian interior activated a network of channels associated with an alluvial fan system along the western flanks of the Hajar Mountains, leading to lake formation. Multiproxy evidence indicates that precipitation increases intermittently recharged fluvial systems within the region, leading to lake expansion in distal fan zones. Conversely, decreased precipitation led to reduced channel flow, lake contraction and a shift to saline conditions. These findings are in contrast to the many other palaeoclimatic records from Arabia, which suggest that during MIS 3, the latitudinal position of the monsoon was substantially further south and did not penetrate the peninsula. Additionally, the occurrence of increased rainfall at this time challenges the notion that the climate of Arabia following MIS 5 was too harsh to permit the further range expansion of indigenous communities.
To disperse out of sub-Saharan Africa, it was necessary for hominins to cross the deserts of either the Sahara and/or Arabia. Thus, understanding the palaeoclimate of the Saharo-Arabian region is central to determining the role these deserts played in the peopling of the planet; when did they act as barriers and when were they more humid, opening dispersal routes across them? To address these questions we have conducted a temporal and spatial evaluation of dated sites from 20 to 350 ka using combined probability density function (PDF) and geographical Information System (GIS) analyses of all sites dated using uranium/thorium (U/TH) or optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) methods. Radiocarbon dates were not considered because of contamination problems in this time range. The results show that during MIS 2 there is little evidence for humidity in Arabia as would be expected during the height of the last glacial maximum, however, the Sahara shows a sharp rise in probability at the beginning of MIS 2, peaking near the boundary with MIS 3 at ∼29 ka. There appear to be brief periods of humidity in MIS 3 and 6, though at different times in the Sahara (ca. 37, 44, 138, 154 and 180 ka) and Arabia (ca. 40, 54 and 163 ka). During MIS 5, both regions show much evidence for humidity, with PDF peaks corresponding to insolation maxima, though not all maxima are represented in either the Saharan or Arabian record. This situation can be explained by eccentricity-modulated precession: when eccentricity is strong, insolation is enhanced (but also more variable) and the desert climate is generally more humid, particularly at times of high insolation. The opposite happens when eccentricity is low, and deserts tend to be more arid, but local factors exert more of an influence on climate, affecting the timing and strength of the brief humid periods experienced, so that they no longer coincide with insolation maxima. The spatial distribution of humid sites is compatible with a number of different modern human dispersal theories. Southern Arabia experienced humid periods centred on 54 ka and 125 ka, and this could have facilitated dispersal from east Africa to southern Arabia and beyond via the Bab el Mandab. The Sahara shows considerable evidence for humidity during MIS 5 and may have had dispersal across its expanse at this time.
Key to the understanding of Pleistocene human dispersals and settlement dynamics is knowledge about the distribution of human habitats in space and time. To add information about the characteristics of inhabited environments along the South Arabian dispersal route, this paper presents paleo-environmental data from deposits excavated at Jebel Faya (FAY-NE1) in the Emirate of Sharjah, UAE. The sedimentary sequence at FAY-NE1 spans a period of about 125,000 years, including the last interglacial and the Holocene. Particle size and phytolith content of samples from two sediment columns were analyzed, including both archaeology bearing layers and archaeologically sterile layers. The results demonstrate that human occupation of the site is related to pluvial periods. Assemblage C, dated to about 127–123 ka, was deposited during a wet phase with an environment characterized by an increased proportion of C3 grasses. Grassland with sedges but lacking tree cover characterize ecological conditions during the youngest of the Paleolithic occupation periods, Assemblage A, dated to about 45–40 ka. Environmental conditions during periods lacking archaeological remains are characterized by the absence of vegetation cover during phases of desiccation. There is no evidence for human presence at the site between 38 and 11 ka.
The activities of hunter-gatherers are often captured in rockshelters, but here the authors present a study of a riverside settlement outside one, with a rich sequence from 1300 BC to AD 800. Thanks to frequent flooding, periods of occupation were sealed and could be examined in situ. The phytolith and faunal record, especially fish, chronicle changing climate and patterns of subsistence, emphasising that the story here is no predictable one-way journey from hunter-gatherer to farmer. Right up to the period of the famous nineteenth-century rock paintings in the surrounding Maloti-Drakensberg region, adaptation was dynamic and historically contingent.
Despite the present hyper-aridity, archaeological investigations in South-east Arabia have demonstrated that the region supported extensive human communities throughout the Neolithic and Bronze Age. These early populations utilised the region’s natural environment in a variety of ways, ranging from the exploitation of coastal resources to practicing pastoral and agrarian lifestyles in the interior. Palaeoclimate data suggests the corresponding period was characterised by considerable climatic variability yet, to date, few studies have attempted to investigate the relationship between climate, the environment and early human populations in the region. This paper combines new high-resolution palaeoclimate data from Awafi palaeolake, United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the region’s archaeological record from the Neolithic through to the onset of the Bronze Age. The evidence presented in this paper suggests that the environment of South-east Arabia offered different constraints and opportunities for early human occupation and subsistence. In particular, abrupt phases of aridity are demonstrated to have had a profound impact. Most notable is the change which occurred following the onset of climatic aridity at 5900calyr BP, when the region’s semi-nomadic, herder-gatherer populations abandoned much of the landscape and concentrated in selected environmental refugia, such as along the northern Omani coast. Human repopulation during the Bronze Age coincided with a return to more pluvial conditions under which a network of oasis agricultural settlements appeared along the piedmont zone of the northern Hajar Mountains.
The timing of the dispersal of anatomically modern humans (AMH) out of Africa is a fundamental question in human evolutionary studies. Existing data suggest a rapid coastal exodus via the Indian Ocean rim around 60,000 years ago. We present evidence from Jebel Faya, United Arab Emirates, demonstrating human presence in eastern Arabia during the last interglacial. The tool kit found at Jebel Faya has affinities to the late Middle Stone Age in northeast Africa, indicating that technological innovation was not necessary to facilitate migration into Arabia. Instead, we propose that low eustatic sea level and increased rainfall during the transition between marine isotope stages 6 and 5 allowed humans to populate Arabia. This evidence implies that AMH may have been present in South Asia before the Toba eruption (1).
The late Holocene environmental history of the Lesotho highlands, southern Africa, is poorly understood with few detailed studies to date. At Likoaeng, Senqu Valley, Lesotho, a 3 m stratified sedimentary sequence from an open-air archaeological site records vegetation development for the period 3400-1070 cal. BP. Phytolith analyses and bulk sediment organic matter Î´13C indicate that C4 grassland dominated the lower part of the sequence until approximately 2960 cal. BP when there was a switch to C3 Pooid grassland (2960-2160 cal. BP). Also noted was a change from hunting mainly bovids to a dominance of fishing at the site. The change in grassland type and archaeological subsistence strategies corresponds with an episode of neoglacial cooling and the expansion of Alpine sourgrasses into lower altitudes. From 2160 to 1600 cal. BP grassland became a mix of C3 and C4 types and by 1600-1070 cal. BP there was a return to C4 dominated grassland. During this latter phase there was a reversal from fishing to hunting again (and eventually some keeping of domestic livestock) at the site. These data outline the vegetation response to latitudinal shifts of frontal systems, and relatively strong atmospheric circulation variability, perhaps underpinned by variations of polar water into the Benguela Current during the late Holocene.
Archaeological excavations in 2002–3 at Hattab II Cave in northwestern Morocco revealed an undisturbed Late Palaeolithic Iberomaurusian human burial. This is the first Iberomaurusian inhumation discovered in the region. The skeleton is probably that of a male aged between 25 and 30 years. The individual shows a characteristic absence of the central upper incisors reported in other Iberomaurusian burials. Accompanying the burial are a stone core and a number of grave goods including bone points, a marine gastropod and a gazelle horn core. Thermoluminescence dating of a burnt stone artefact in association with the burial has provided an age of 8900?1100 BP. This is one of the youngest ages reported for the Iberomaurusian and raises questions about persistence of hunter-gatherer societies in the Maghreb and the potential for continuity in burial practices with the earliest Neolithic.
New data on the Neolithic occupation of the northern UAE coast were collected during the 2017–2018 excavations at the shellmidden site of UAQ36. Although so far limited to a fifth-millennium occupation, this data can be contextualized within the broader research programme of the French Archaeological Mission in the Emirate of Umm al-Quwain.
When compared to the previously excavated Neolithic sites of UAQ2 (last third of the sixth–beginning of the fourth millennium) and Akab (second third of the fifth–beginning of the fourth millennium), this new data can be used to discuss the nature of the Neolithic occupation along the UAE Gulf coast, which overall attests a good and recurring adaptation of the human communities to the changing surrounding environment.