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The Western Periphery of the Red Sea as a Hominin Habitat and Dispersal Corridor: Marginal or Central?

Abstract

The Western Periphery of the Red Sea (WPRS) is an important region for paleoanthropological discussions about the history of hominin dispersal out of Africa. This paper examines the existing Paleolithic evidence in the region and some key aspects of its environmental setting, with the goal of assessing its role in hominin survival and dispersals. The paper’s chronological focus is the span 1.8–0.05 million years ago (Ma). Although the majority of the Paleolithic (Stone Age) sites so far documented in the region lack precise chronological control, the available evidence comprises Acheulean, Middle and Later Stone Age technocomplexes that can be broadly linked to distinct hominin settlement episodes. Most of the documented sites appear to be related to terrestrial niche exploitation around channelized alluvial plains between the coastal zone and the eastern slopes of the Red Sea Hills, although wave erosion may have destroyed sites associated with coastal resource use. As an extension of the East African Rift system, the WPRS mirrors the landscape features of the fossil-rich Rift Valley region, with the addition of a coastal niche. Thus, it may have posed little survival risk for hominins coming from the inland habitats, and some of the inhabitant populations may have easily dispersed toward Eurasia from there.

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Acknowledgements

Field projects in the Red Sea coastal regions of Eritrea and the Sudan, which generated the bulk of the data reviewed in the article, were funded by the Leakey and Wenner-Gren Foundations, the Dan David Prize, National Geographic Society (Grant# NGS-64510R-19), and the U.S. National Science Foundation (Grant# BCS-1400473). I extend special thanks to my local and international collaborators who took part in those projects. I am grateful to David Wright and Parth Chauhan as well as to two anonymous reviewers and the editor-in-chief (Prof. Timothy Taylor) for their constructive feedback on the paper, which immensely improved its content and organization. All errors that remain in the paper are mine.

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Beyin, A. The Western Periphery of the Red Sea as a Hominin Habitat and Dispersal Corridor: Marginal or Central?. J World Prehist 34, 279–316 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10963-021-09157-5

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Keywords

  • Red Sea
  • Paleolithic sites
  • Acheulean
  • Middle Stone Age
  • Hominin dispersal