Ancient human footprints in Saudi Arabia give glimpse of Arabian ecology 120000 years ago

Image: Researchers surveying the Alathar lake, situated inside an interdunal depression in the western Nefud Desert, Saudi Arabia
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Credit score: Palaeodeserts Project

Positioned amongst Africa and Eurasia, the Arabian Peninsula is an vital yet understudied region for knowledge human evolution throughout the continents. Modern study highlighting the part of the Arabian Peninsula in human prehistory reveals that human beings frequently dispersed into the peninsula’s interior at times when its severe deserts had been transformed into lush grasslands. Nonetheless, the character and timing of these dispersals have remained elusive, due to a shortage of datable content and poor-resolution paleoecological info affiliated with evidence for human beings.

In a new analyze published in Science Advancements, scientists from the Max Planck Institutes for Chemical Ecology (MPI-CE) and the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH) in Jena, Germany and Royal Holloway University of London, British isles, collectively with a team of worldwide companions, describe a big assemblage of fossilized footprints found in an historical lake deposit in Saudi Arabia’s Nefud Desert. The footprints, dated to around one hundred twenty thousand-yrs-ago, include those of human beings, elephants and horses, among the other animals. These conclusions characterize the earliest dated evidence for human actions into this component of the earth, modern with perfectly-identified human dispersals from Africa to the Levant. In addition, it appears that the actions and landscape use styles of human beings and big mammals had been tightly connected, possibly in response to dry situations and diminishing h2o materials.

A Environmentally friendly Arabia in Human Prehistory

Simply because the Arabian Peninsula is characterized by big, hyper-arid deserts inhospitable to early human beings and the animals they relied on, Arabia has received significantly less interest than Africa or Eurasia, neighboring areas that are critical to knowledge human prehistory. Nonetheless, study more than the previous 10 years has revealed that this was not often the scenario, and it is now perfectly-understood that situations in Arabia have fluctuated appreciably more than the past million yrs.

“At sure times in the past, the deserts that dominate the interior of the peninsula transformed into expansive grasslands with lasting freshwater lakes and rivers,” points out Richard Clark-Wilson of Royal Holloway, a person of the guide authors of the analyze. “It was in the course of these durations of climatic upturn that human and animal populations dispersed into the interior, as revealed by the archaeological and fossil report.”

Footprints as a Significant-Resolution Proxy

The footprints explained in the new analyze had been found in the course of a new survey of the Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia. At an historical lake deposit dubbed ‘Alathar’ (this means “the trace” in Arabic) by the team, hundreds of human and animal footprints had been found embedded in the floor, acquiring been exposed subsequent the erosion of overlying sediments.

“We immediately understood the opportunity of these conclusions,” claims Mathew Stewart of MPI-CE, a person of the study’s guide authors. “Footprints are a unique sort of fossil evidence in that they provide snapshots in time, usually symbolizing a couple of hrs or times, a resolution we tend not get from other data.”

Researchers had been equipped to discover a selection of animals from the footprints, like elephants, horses, and camels. The existence of elephants was notably notable, as these big animals look to have long gone regionally extinct in the Levant by about four hundred thousand-yrs-ago.

“The existence of big animals this kind of as elephants and hippos, collectively with open grasslands and big h2o assets, may possibly have designed northern Arabia a notably desirable position to human beings moving amongst Africa and Eurasia,” claims Michael Petraglia of MPI-SHH, who has been conducting study in the region for more than a 10 years.

The dense concentration of footprints and evidence from the lake sediments implies that animals may possibly have been congregating about the lake in response to dry situations and diminishing h2o materials. Human beings, way too, may possibly have been utilizing the lake for h2o and the surrounding region for foraging.

“We know people today frequented the lake, but the absence of stone equipment or evidence of the use of animal carcasses implies that their go to to the lake was only quick,” claims Stewart. Human actions and landscape use styles, thus, may possibly have been carefully connected to the big animals they shared the region with.

Early Human Dispersals into Arabia

The age of the footprints is of specific desire. They date to a time period identified as the previous interglacial, a time of comparatively humid situations throughout the region and an vital second in human prehistory. Environmental modifications in the course of the previous interglacial would have allowed human beings and animals to disperse throughout if not desert areas, which ordinarily acted as big obstacles to dispersal in the course of the less humid durations. Fossil and archaeological data indicate that these situations also facilitated human dispersal from Africa into the Levant.

“It is only soon after the previous interglacial with the return of cooler situations that we have definitive evidence for Neanderthals moving into the region,” claims Stewart. “The footprints, thus, most most likely characterize human beings, or Homo sapiens.”

These conclusions advise that human actions beyond Africa in the course of the previous interglacial prolonged into northern Arabia, highlighting the relevance of Arabia for the analyze of human prehistory.


Researchers included in this analyze perform in shut partnership with the Saudi Ministry of Society. Added companions include the Saudi Geological Survey, King Saud University, and other important establishments in the United Kingdom and Australia.

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