Category Archives: Arabia

Pre-pottery Neolithic in North-Central Arabia

And yet another Cressard study, this time on the Neolithic of North-Central Arabia Peninsula.
Rémy Cressard et al., Beyond the Levant: First Evidence of a Pre-Pottery Neolithic Incursion into the Nefud Desert, Saudi Arabia. PLoS ONE 2013. Open access → LINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068061]

Pre-Pottery Neolithic assemblages are best known from the fertile areas of the Mediterranean Levant. The archaeological site of Jebel Qattar 101 (JQ-101), at Jubbah in the southern part of the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia, contains a large collection of stone tools, adjacent to an Early Holocene palaeolake. The stone tool assemblage contains lithic types, including El-Khiam and Helwan projectile points, which are similar to those recorded in Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B assemblages in the Fertile Crescent. Jebel Qattar lies ~500 kilometres outside the previously identified geographic range of Pre-Pottery Neolithic cultures. Technological analysis of the typologically diagnostic Jebel Qattar 101 projectile points indicates a unique strategy to manufacture the final forms, thereby raising the possibility of either direct migration of Levantine groups or the acculturation of mobile communities in Arabia. The discovery of the Early Holocene site of Jebel Qattar suggests that our view of the geographic distribution and character of Pre-Pottery Neolithic cultures may be in need of revision.
Figure 1. Map of the Neolithic Near East with the
different geo-cultural zones of the core area (or Fertile Crescent), in
green; after Aurenche and Kozlowski [82].

The JQ-101 site is located in the southern part of the Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia.

Critically the Jebel Qattar site includes characteristic fossils: the El Khiam and Heluwan points, that link it clearly to the Southern Levant (i.e. Palestine and Jordan). This may relate this colonization with proto-Semitic or very early Semitic peoples, which are often suspected to be related to these cultures. In particular I wonder if these peoples may have been already carrying the seed of the Southern Semitic languages which once extended through Southern Arabia and parts of The Horn of Africa (now restricted mostly to Eritrea and Ethiopia, although still surviving among the Mehri and Socotran).
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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Arabia, Neolithic, West Asia


South Arabian paleolake Mundafan was inhabited in the Middle Paleolithic and later in the Neolithic

Another study also by Cressard researches two greatly different periods of occupation of what was once a lake in Southern Saudi Arabia, not far from Yemen.
Rémy Cressard et al., Middle Palaeolithic and Neolithic Occupations around Mundafan Palaeolake, Saudi Arabia: Implications for Climate Change and Human Dispersals. PLoS ONE 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069665]


The Arabian Peninsula is a key region for understanding climate change and human occupation history in a marginal environment. The Mundafan palaeolake is situated in southern Saudi Arabia, in the Rub’ al-Khali (the ‘Empty Quarter’), the world’s largest sand desert. Here we report the first discoveries of Middle Palaeolithic and Neolithic archaeological sites in association with the palaeolake. We associate the human occupations with new geochronological data, and suggest the archaeological sites date to the wet periods of Marine Isotope Stage 5 and the Early Holocene. The archaeological sites indicate that humans repeatedly penetrated the ameliorated environments of the Rub’ al-Khali. The sites probably represent short-term occupations, with the Neolithic sites focused on hunting, as indicated by points and weaponry. Middle Palaeolithic assemblages at Mundafan support a lacustrine adaptive focus in Arabia. Provenancing of obsidian artifacts indicates that Neolithic groups at Mundafan had a wide wandering range, with transport of artifacts from distant sources.

Figure 5. General views of the Mundafan palaeolake.
Again the content is rich in details of great interest for the archaeologist and prehistorian but surely a bit harder to digest for the casual aficionado.
Of interest anyhow is that no Nubian Complex affinities have been observed in the Middle Paleolithic tools and cores, suggesting again that the colonization of Arabia and Palestine from Africa was multifaceted, with different and sometimes ill-defined cultural sources.
As for the Neolithic a problem is that in this and other sites, all findings are located on the surface, being therefore impossible to date stratigraphically. The kind of tanged arrowheads suggests, by comparison with other sites, that these findings belong to the oldest Neolithic phase, c. 8000-6000 calBP. There are no findings that could be attributed to later periods, probably because the area became just too dry. Interestingly:

The Mundafan Neolithic sites do not appear to be sedentary locations on the basis of the absence of architectural features, grindstones, domesticated faunal remains, and relatively low artifact densities. The prevalence of projectiles and other weaponry is probable evidence of hunting activities. Mundafan would have been a favorable setting for short-term hunting along the lakeshore. The presence of rare obsidian artifacts demonstrates Mundafan’s participation in long-distance mobility systems that included relations with the obsidian-rich mountainous zones of Yemen, some 400–500 km away from the site.

While the term “Neolithic” is used in the paper, the kind of economy that the people living there had seems to have been hunter-gatherer.
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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Arabia, Middle Paleolithic, Neolithic, West Asia


Nubian Complex in Central Arabia

The Nubian Complex MSA techno-culture arrived to Central Arabia, just south of Riyadh seemingly via the South
Rémy Cressard & Yamandú H. Hilbert, A Nubian Complex Site from Central Arabia: Implications for Levallois Taxonomy and Human Dispersals during the Upper Pleistocene. PLoS ONE 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069221]


Archaeological survey undertaken in central Saudi Arabia has revealed 29 surface sites attributed to the Arabian Middle Paleolithic based on the presence of Levallois blank production methods. Technological analyses on cores retrieved from Al-Kharj 22 have revealed specific reduction modalities used to produce flakes with predetermined shapes. The identified modalities, which are anchored within the greater Levallois concept of core convexity preparation and exploitation, correspond with those utilized during the Middle Stone Age Nubian Complex of northeast Africa and southern Arabia. The discovery of Nubian technology at the Al-Kharj 22 site represents the first appearance of this blank production method in central Arabia. Here we demonstrate how a rigorous use of technological and taxonomic analysis may enable intra-regional comparisons across the Arabian Peninsula. The discovery of Al-Kharj 22 increases the complexity of the Arabian Middle Paleolithic archaeological record and suggests new dynamics of population movements between the southern and central regions of the Peninsula. This study also addresses the dichotomy within Nubian core typology (Types 1 and 2), which was originally defined for African assemblages.

Figure 3. Levallois methods schemata: figuration of product and core shapes for each method.
Preferential Levallois flake production with centripetal preparation;
B: Preferential Levallois point production with unidirectional
convergent preparation; C: Nubian Levallois type 1 with distal divergent
preparation; D: Nubian Levallois type 2 with double lateral
preparation; E: Nubian Levallois type 1/2 with mixed type 1 and type 2
Figure 10. Schematic representation depicting the
three main dorsal preparation types, preparation type 1, 2 and 1/2, and
the proposed reduction succession discussed in the text.

order to facilitate comprehension cores, end-products and preparation
by-products have been color-coded; blue equals type 1 preparation, green
type 2 and yellow type 1/2.

Many more images of interest for experts or qualified amateurs are available in this high quality study. For the less specialized reader it is probably more interesting to ponder the overall extension of the Nubian Complex:

Figure 11. Distribution of main sites with Nubian cores in Eastern Africa and Arabia.
Illustrated cores do not represent actual size. 1. Al-Kharj 22 (this study); 2. Aybut Al Auwal [12]; 3. Shabwa [30]; 4. Hadramawt [5], [6], [27]; 5. Aduma [112]; 6. Gademotta [113]; 7. Asfet [114]; 8. Nazlet Khater 1 [115]; 9. Abydos [66].

The authors argue that Southern and Central Arabia are the Easternmost reaches of this complex, however we cannot forget that the recent discovery of Indian sites with a complex industry, dated to c. 96 Ka ago, of Nubian, Aterian and other MSA affinities challenges this notion.

See also in this blog:


South Arabian genetic refugium

This is not about the L(xM,N) lineages but about the Eurasian ones like R0a or R2.
Jeffrey I. Rose et al., Tabula rasa or refugia? Using genetic data to assess the peopling of Arabia. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, 2013. Pay per view → LINK [doi:10.1111/aae.12017]


This paper provides a broad overview of the current state of archaeogenetic research in Arabia. We summarise recent studies of mitochondrial DNA and lactase persistence allele -13915*G in order to reconstruct the population histories of modern Arabs. These data, in turn, enable us to assess different scenarios for the peopling of the Peninsula over the course of the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene. The evidence supports the posited existence of Arabian refugia, although it is inconclusive which (e.g. Persian Gulf basin, Yemeni highlands and/or Red Sea basin) was/were responsible for housing ancestral populations during the Last Glacial Maximum. Synthesising genetic and archaeological data sets, we conclude that a substantial portion of the present South Arabian gene pool derives from a deeply rooted population that underwent significant internal growth within Arabia some 12,000 years ago. At the same time, we interpret the disappearance of Nejd Leptolithic archaeological sites in southern Arabia around 8000 years ago to represent the termination of a significant component of the Pleistocene gene pool.

Rose uploaded the full paper at Very much worth a careful read because it is a rare case of paleogenetics being done by a researcher who is primarily an archaeologist and who knows well the material Prehistory of which he’s talking about, at all moments seeking to reconcile archaeological and genetic evidence and not, as way too often happens, creating genetic-only models with absolutely no material foundations and unavoidably clashing with prehistoric reality.  

More on the Paleolithic of Nefud (Arabia)

The Nefud or An Nafud is a desert that sits on the North of Arabia Peninsula. Last year, tireless archaeologist Michael Petraglia published a paper on a newly found archaeological culture from that, now so arid, region (see here) dated to c. 75,000 years ago.

Location of the Nefud site of Jubbah (fig. 16 of present study)
It was pay per view however. This new release he has chosen instead the open access journal by default, PLoS ONE:
Michael D. Petraglia et al., Hominin Dispersal into the Nefud Desert and Middle Palaeolithic Settlement along the Jubbah Palaeolake, Northern Arabia. PLoS ONE 2012. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049840]


The Arabian Peninsula is a key region for understanding hominin
dispersals and the effect of climate change on prehistoric demography,
although little information on these topics is presently available owing
to the poor preservation of archaeological sites in this desert
environment. Here, we describe the discovery of three stratified and
buried archaeological sites in the Nefud Desert, which includes the
oldest dated occupation for the region. The stone tool assemblages are
identified as a Middle Palaeolithic industry that includes Levallois
manufacturing methods and the production of tools on flakes. Hominin
occupations correspond with humid periods, particularly Marine Isotope
Stages 7 and 5 of the Late Pleistocene. The Middle Palaeolithic
occupations were situated along the Jubbah palaeolake-shores, in a
grassland setting with some trees. Populations procured different raw
materials across the lake region to manufacture stone tools, using the
implements to process plants and animals. To reach the Jubbah
palaeolake, Middle Palaeolithic populations travelled into the
ameliorated Nefud Desert interior, possibly gaining access from multiple
directions, either using routes from the north and west (the Levant and
the Sinai), the north (the Mesopotamian plains and the Euphrates
basin), or the east (the Persian Gulf). The Jubbah stone tool
assemblages have their own suite of technological characters, but have
types reminiscent of both African Middle Stone Age and Levantine Middle
Palaeolithic industries. Comparative inter-regional analysis of core
technology indicates morphological similarities with the Levantine Tabun
C assemblage, associated with human fossils controversially identified
as either Neanderthals or Homo sapiens.

In this study, they report the oldest known Arabian occupation by any kind of humans c. 211,000 years ago:

Though so far a small excavated stone tool assemblage, the recovery of
28 artefacts in a deposit dated to 211±16 ka represents the oldest
reliably dated occurrence in the Arabian Peninsula. We tentatively
associate this assemblage with the Middle Palaeolithic on the basis of
the age of the technology and the recovery of two Levallois flakes.
Although we cannot be certain of the species that manufactured the
artefacts, we note that the lithic assemblages were produced at a time
corresponding with the origin of Homo sapiens in Africa based on mitochondrial DNA [40] and nuclear genomic [41] age estimates and fossil finds [42], [43].
The early JQ-1 artefacts also correspond with the upper age range
limits of the Acheulo-Yabrudian and the Zuttiyeh fossil, potentially
indicating the presence of archaic hominins [44] in Arabia, and possibly early representatives of the Neanderthals [45].

However the main findings are still from the 75,000 years old layer, whose cultural affinities and possible maker species are pondered. The most visually accessible result is a PC analysis:

Fig. 17 (Jebel Qattar and Jebel Katefeh are the Jubbah Lake sub-sites)

Notice how the Jubbah subsites (the two Jebels) fall between two Levantine Mousterian sites: El Wad and Tabun C, attributed to Neanderthals. So it is very likely that this colonization represents an expansive attempt by West Asian Neanderthals. 
Possibly related is the also recent finding (Delagnes 2012) of Mousterian in Yemen, dated to c. 55,000 BP. Therefore it would appear that after the expansion of Homo sapiens in Arabia, eventually leading to the colonization of Southern and Eastern Asia, as well as Near Oceania, there was an expansive tendency of Neanderthals as well, which may have helped to partly erase the genetic remnants of the out-of-Africa episode in the most fertile parts of Arabia Peninsula.


Late Middle Paleolithic industry of Yemen

Yet another South Arabian industry has been researched and described, this time in the mountain range of Western Yemen, which runs parallel to the Red Sea coast.


The recovery at Shi’bat Dihya 1 (SD1) of a dense Middle Paleolithic human occupation dated to 55 ka BP sheds new light on the role of the Arabian Peninsula at the time of the alleged expansion of modern humans out of Africa. SD1 is part of a complex of Middle Paleolithic sites cut by the Wadi Surdud and interstratified within an alluvial sedimentary basin in the foothills that connect the Yemeni highlands with the Tihama coastal plain. A number of environmental proxies indicate arid conditions throughout a sequence that extends between 63 and 42 ka BP. The lithic industry is geared toward the production of a variety of end products: blades, pointed blades, pointed flakes and Levallois-like flakes with long unmodified cutting edges, made from locally available rhyolite. The occasional exploitation of other local raw materials, that fulfill distinct complementary needs, highlights the multi-functional nature of the occupation. The slightly younger Shi’bat Dihya 2 (SD2) site is characterized by a less elaborate production of flakes, together with some elements (blades and pointed flakes) similar to those found at SD1, and may indicate a cultural continuity between the two sites. The technological behaviors of the SD1 toolmakers present similarities with those documented from a number of nearly contemporaneous assemblages from southern Arabia, the Levant, the Horn of Africa and North Africa. However, they do not directly conform to any of the techno-complexes typical of the late Middle Paleolithic or late Middle Stone Age from these regions. This period would have witnessed the development of local Middle Paleolithic traditions in the Arabian Peninsula, which suggests more complex settlement dynamics and possible population interactions than commonly inferred by the current models of modern human expansion out of Africa.

The dates are relatively late, considering we know now of sites in the area since c. 130,000 years ago (in Palestine, Dhofar and Sarjah) but the site is still an interesting addition to the collection of reconstructed stories of the peoples who lived in Arabia early on, whose genetic remnants are still present most probably according to Behar 2008
I find particularly interesting that the peoples of this culture made blade tools, which are previously only common in South Asia. But some “Levallois blades” are known to exist in Mousterian contexts for examples, being different in production from Aurignacoid ones – and this seems to be the case.

In fact the review article I could find at USA Today (h/t Pileta), rather suggests Mousterian affinities in fact:
Most intriguing, the stone tools found at the site fall into the
tradition of older Stone Age tools, rather than ones associated with the
early modern humans thought to have left Africa roughly 60,000 years
ago. They might have belonged to descendants of earlier modern human
migrants from Africa who established themselves in Arabia despite its
desert conditions. Or maybe they belonged to a sister human species,
our Neanderthal cousins, suggest the researchers:

“Our fieldwork at the Wadi Surdud in
Yemen demonstrates that during the period of the supposed expansion of
modern humans out of Africa (60,000 to 50,000 years ago), and their
rapid dispersal toward south-eastern Asia along the western and southern
Arabian coastlines, the interior of this region was, in fact, occupied
by well-adapted human groups who developed their own local technological
tradition, deeply rooted in the Middle Paleolithic. Future research
will likely reveal whether the archaeological assemblages recovered from
the Wadi Surdud can be associated with the descendents of anatomically
modern human groups who occupied the Arabian Peninsula during (this era)
or the southernmost expansion of the Neanderthals.”

Everything is possible but we should not forget that the Homo sapiens of Palestine did use Mousterian technology, a fact that may be related to Neanderthal genetic introgression among us. 
See also category: Out of Africa in this blog. And specially, besides the links in-text, this entry on the various options for the OoA migration, which are necessarily much older than this group.


Neolithic culture found in Southern Arabia

Al Magar horse statue

The Al-Magar culture, dated to c. 5500-3500 BCE, belongs to a period more humid than today. It has some very beautiful art but, crucially, raises questions on the time and place of the first domestication of horses. 

Why? Because the art of the culture is full of what can be horses (wild or domestic) and other equids like the onager. Of course, equid skeletal remnants are also abundant.
While the source of this news snippet is very enthusiastic about the possibility that the area may have been home to a parallel horse-domestication event, no specific evidence is provided other than the statues there being thousands of horse remains (hard to drag from hunt site if these would have been wild) and the ability of those early “Arabs” to build large sedentary settlements. Nothing conclusive… but suggestive indeed.
Source: Horsetalk.

Edited on May 25th (new text in red, removed text slashed out).