November 21, 2012

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]

Abstract

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 sub-sites (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.



4 comments:

  1. The chart really powerfully shows the continuity of pre-Toba and post-Toba Indian relics, in both cases distinct from the Arabian and Levantine and African examples.

    I wish that the paleo-climate waterways maps were shaded to show drainage basins, it is a bit hard to tell at a glance, for example, if there are any endoheric basins there, or it is all drains to the Red Sea, Indian Ocean or Persian Gulf respectively and where the divides are.

    The possibility of the really old lithic tools being Neanderthal would certainly be the less exciting possibility and this paper doesn't seem to rule it out in the Arabian cases. But, the affinity of the Jebel and Tabun sites to the Horn of Africa MSA would seem to argue for an AMH or hybrid hominin character to these sites.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Indian MSA is very close to Southern African MSA (not shown in the chart of this paper) per Petraglia 2007 (and NOT to Eastern African MSA). This may sound a bit paradoxical but notice that we know nothing for example of the archaeology of much of East Africa, at least the coastal areas and that IMO much of the relic mtDNA in Southern Arabia appears to be L0 variants (and per my reconstruction of African mitochondrial genetic history, L0 is from East Africa around Lake Victoria and branches of it were in the northern parts of East Africa until the OoA episode - and of course later).

      As for the water basins, I don't get the impression from the graph that the authors were able to be extremely precise about the paleorivers, whose specifics may have anyhow changed depending on the rain regime and maybe even some land changes, easy to happen in flat areas specially.

      "The possibility of the really old lithic tools being Neanderthal would certainly be the less exciting possibility"...

      That seems to depend on how much Neanderthals excite you. :)

      "... and this paper doesn't seem to rule it out in the Arabian cases".

      Actually it leans towards these specific remains being Neanderthal almost for sure. As I comment in the entry, it would look like Neanderthals were expanding southwards, something apparently confirmed by late Mousterian findings in Yemen (seems I forgot to include the link in text).

      " But, the affinity of the Jebel and Tabun sites to the Horn of Africa MSA would seem to argue for an AMH or hybrid hominin character to these sites".

      Of course that's debatable. But it may just be an artifact of PC analysis: when you simplify multiple variants into two dimensions... strange things happen way too often. In this case the dimensions seem to be defined by Indian MSA (horizontal axis) and Tabun Mousterian (vertical axis). It's possible that the metrics used do not describe well the industries, etc. So you should take PCAs (in general but here even more) with a spoonful of salt.

      If they'd use PCA for rocket science, rockets would not exist yet.

      Delete
  2. "it is a bit hard to tell at a glance, for example, if there are any endoheric basins there, or it is all drains to the Red Sea, Indian Ocean or Persian Gulf respectively and where the divides are".

    My job when I first left university was making maps mostly involving catchment boundaries. It looks as though virtually all the waterways in the ancient Arabian Peninsula drain into the Persian Gulf. The land falls away from a high point in the southwest. A very narrow strip along the western shore drains into the Red Sea, and a narrow coastal catchment drains into the Indian Ocean. From the Nefud site of Jubbah it seems everything drains ultimately into the Euphrates.

    "The Indian MSA is very close to Southern African MSA (not shown in the chart of this paper) per Petraglia 2007 (and NOT to Eastern African MSA). This may sound a bit paradoxical"

    It does seem likely, therefore, that the Indian MSA/Southern African MSA connection is the product of a much earlier expansion than that of the Nefud/Levant/Sinai connection. The latter expansion obliterated the earlier one through much of the region, leaving the earlier remnant to survive, and even thrive, in India and Southern Africa.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "... the Indian MSA/Southern African MSA connection is the product of a much earlier expansion than that of the Nefud/Levant/Sinai connection".

      At least a different one. Although a bit earlier also if we are to have them in India c. 80 Ka. after all.

      Delete

Please, be reasonably respectful when making comments. I do not tolerate in particular sexism, racism nor homophobia. Personal attacks, manipulation and trolling are also very much unwelcome here.The author reserves the right to delete any abusive comment.

Preliminary comment moderation is... ON (sorry, too many trolls).