August 1, 2013

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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