Middle Palaeolithic occupations in central Saudi Arabia during MIS 5 and MIS 7: new insights on the origins of the peopling of Arabia

Abstract

Although Middle Palaeolithic stratified and dated sites are still rare in Arabia, recent archaeological, palaeoenvironmental, population genetic, geomatic and geochronological studies have noticeably contributed to a re-evaluation of the prehistory of the region. Here, we report the discovery of a stratified open-air Middle Palaeolithic site in central Saudi Arabia, a novelty given the paucity of dated Pleistocene lithic assemblages in the region. The site of Umm al-Sha’al is located in the Rufa Graben where a substantial number of Middle Palaeolithic surface occurrences have been reported. It contains artefacts produced using Levallois technology, indicative of Middle Palaeolithic human exploitation of locally abundant quartzite raw material. The site comprises two horizons with archaeological finds dating to Marine Isotope Stages 5 and likely 7 or even older. During this period, hunter-gatherers would have benefited from bodies of water and streams in the vicinity of the site, which were active during humid phases, contributing to the development of a significant biomass. Our discovery supports the hypotheses of an early colonisation of inland Arabia by hominins and of a solid link with North and East African lithic traditions of the Middle Stone Age, which awaits further refinement.

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Acknowledgements

Archaeological operations at Umm al-Sha’al greatly beneficiated from the authorization and support of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH). The authors thank the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the French Embassy in Riyadh, CNRS UMR 8167 and UMR 5133, Sorbonne University, King Saud University and SCTH for financial and technical support. YHH is grateful to the Fondation Fyssen for financial support. Lithic drawings were finalised by G. Devilder (CNRS UMR 5199).

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Crassard, R., Hilbert, Y.H., Preusser, F. et al. Middle Palaeolithic occupations in central Saudi Arabia during MIS 5 and MIS 7: new insights on the origins of the peopling of Arabia. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 3101–3120 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-018-0743-2

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Keywords

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Middle Palaeolithic
  • Optically stimulated luminescence
  • Levallois technology
  • Hominin dispersals