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


Impression: Researchers surveying the Alathar lake, located in an interdunal depression in the western Nefud Desert, Saudi Arabia
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Credit score: Palaeodeserts Undertaking

Positioned between Africa and Eurasia, the Arabian Peninsula is an essential yet understudied location for knowledge human evolution throughout the continents. Current investigation highlighting the position of the Arabian Peninsula in human prehistory exhibits that individuals regularly dispersed into the peninsula’s interior at times when its harsh deserts had been remodeled into lush grasslands. Even so, the mother nature and timing of these dispersals have remained elusive, owing to a scarcity of datable product and inadequate-resolution paleoecological information involved with proof for individuals.

In a new review published in Science Advancements, researchers from the Max Planck Institutes for Chemical Ecology (MPI-CE) and the Science of Human Heritage (MPI-SHH) in Jena, Germany and Royal Holloway College of London, United kingdom, with each other with a crew of intercontinental associates, describe a massive assemblage of fossilized footprints uncovered in an ancient lake deposit in Saudi Arabia’s Nefud Desert. The footprints, dated to around 120 thousand-decades-ago, contain all those of individuals, elephants and horses, between other animals. These conclusions symbolize the earliest dated proof for human movements into this portion of the earth, contemporary with effectively-identified human dispersals from Africa to the Levant. In addition, it appears that the movements and landscape use designs of individuals and massive mammals had been tightly joined, possibly in reaction to dry conditions and diminishing water supplies.

A Environmentally friendly Arabia in Human Prehistory

Due to the fact the Arabian Peninsula is characterized by massive, hyper-arid deserts inhospitable to early individuals and the animals they relied on, Arabia has been given considerably less awareness than Africa or Eurasia, neighboring areas that are critical to knowledge human prehistory. Even so, investigation more than the past 10 years has revealed that this was not usually the circumstance, and it is now effectively-understood that conditions in Arabia have fluctuated appreciably more than the previous million decades.

“At certain times in the previous, the deserts that dominate the interior of the peninsula remodeled into expansive grasslands with long-lasting freshwater lakes and rivers,” describes Richard Clark-Wilson of Royal Holloway, 1 of the direct authors of the review. “It was in the course of these periods of climatic upturn that human and animal populations dispersed into the interior, as revealed by the archaeological and fossil record.”

Footprints as a High-Resolution Proxy

The footprints described in the new review had been uncovered in the course of a recent survey of the Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia. At an ancient lake deposit dubbed ‘Alathar’ (indicating “the trace” in Arabic) by the crew, hundreds of human and animal footprints had been uncovered embedded in the surface, obtaining been exposed adhering to the erosion of overlying sediments.

“We instantly realized the likely of these conclusions,” claims Mathew Stewart of MPI-CE, 1 of the study’s direct authors. “Footprints are a unique form of fossil proof in that they give snapshots in time, commonly symbolizing a few hrs or times, a resolution we are inclined not get from other records.”

Researchers had been capable to recognize a number of animals from the footprints, like elephants, horses, and camels. The presence of elephants was specially noteworthy, as these massive animals surface to have gone locally extinct in the Levant by close to 400 thousand-decades-ago.

“The presence of massive animals this kind of as elephants and hippos, with each other with open up grasslands and massive water sources, might have designed northern Arabia a specially interesting place to individuals relocating between Africa and Eurasia,” claims Michael Petraglia of MPI-SHH, who has been conducting investigation in the location for more than a 10 years.

The dense focus of footprints and proof from the lake sediments suggests that animals might have been congregating close to the lake in reaction to dry conditions and diminishing water supplies. Human beings, much too, might have been employing the lake for water and the bordering area for foraging.

“We know individuals visited the lake, but the deficiency of stone applications or proof of the use of animal carcasses suggests that their go to to the lake was only transient,” claims Stewart. Human movements and landscape use designs, hence, might have been intently joined to the massive animals they shared the area with.

Early Human Dispersals into Arabia

The age of the footprints is of specific fascination. They day to a time period identified as the past interglacial, a time of comparatively humid conditions throughout the location and an essential moment in human prehistory. Environmental variations in the course of the past interglacial would have allowed individuals and animals to disperse throughout usually desert areas, which normally acted as big boundaries to dispersal in the course of the less humid periods. Fossil and archaeological records indicate that these conditions also facilitated human dispersal from Africa into the Levant.

“It is only right after the past interglacial with the return of cooler conditions that we have definitive proof for Neanderthals relocating into the location,” claims Stewart. “The footprints, hence, most probably symbolize individuals, or Homo sapiens.”

These conclusions counsel that human movements outside of Africa in the course of the past interglacial prolonged into northern Arabia, highlighting the significance of Arabia for the review of human prehistory.


Researchers included in this review work in near partnership with the Saudi Ministry of Tradition. Additional associates contain the Saudi Geological Survey, King Saud College, and other vital establishments in the United Kingdom and Australia.

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