Early human migrations from Africa dating back 400,000 years discovered in Al-Nufud desert

The Heritage Commission Wednesday announced the most recent archaeological discoveries made in the north of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, revealing evidence of early human migrations from Africa to Arabia beginning about 400,000 years ago.

The migrations were repeated over multiple time periods dating back 300,000, 200,000, 130,000-75,000 and 55,000 years, representing the longest record of early human presence in Arabia, and underlining the significance of the region in the developments of human civilization outside of Africa.

The discoveries were the result of efforts by a Saudi international mission in partnership with specialists from the Heritage Commission, the Max Planck Institute of Germany, King Saud University, and several distinguished international universities and research centers.

The archaeological excavation uncovered the remains of stone tools and fossilized animal bones within layers of dry lakes in Al-Nufud desert in the northwest of the Kingdom.

At the site of Khall Umayshan, on the outskirts of Tabuk region, artifacts dating back around 400,000 years were found, including Acheulean axes, which are considered the oldest dated archaeological remains in Arabia.

Eminent scientific journal Nature has published Wednesday a study that examined the history of several layers of sediment from the ancient lakes at the sites of Jubbah and Khall Umayshan in the Nufud desert, representing rainy periods experienced by Arabia.

The study revealed the various stages of human presence in the area, and the characteristic differences among the inhabitants as evidenced by the archaeological remains of each period, including the emergence of new stone industries.

Significantly, the study contributed to identifying the time periods of the moderate climates during which these human migrations took place from Africa to Arabia.

The study also revealed the existence of Acheulean stone industries dating back 200,000 years, a time period that is relatively recently compared to counterparts in southwest Asia.

This indicates the uniqueness of Arabia environment in shaping the cultural features prevailing at the time. The study confirmed the use of the archaeological sites for stone tool-making activities rather than as areas of habitation.

The site of the Nufud desert’s Khall Umayshan, on the outskirts of Tabuk region, is considered a unique archaeological site of Arabia owing to its multiple archaeological layers containing environmental information from different periods.

A study of the deepest layer at the site, which dates back around 400,000 years, revealed Acheulean axes, which are the oldest dated archaeological remains in Arabia. The layer above it contained small stone axes dating about 300,000 years.

Above this layer, stone tools as well as the first indications of the manufacturing technique known as Levallois, which was dated back to 200,000 years ago were found. The following two layers, dated at 125,000-75,000 and 55,000 years were distinguished by a distinctive Levalloisian technique.

The Acheulean civilization continued until the humid periods of the late Middle Pleistocene, which were contemporaneous with Levallois industrial technology at the end of the Acheulean period.

These stone industries are unique in their technical characteristics and differ from their counterparts in the eastern Mediterranean. The study showed that the Levallois industry in the Nufud desert is closer in features to its counterpart in East Africa.

The excavation of animal skeletal remains revealed the presence of hippopotamus and other bovine bones over multiple time periods, confirming the existence of an environment rich in water and dense vegetation in the north of Arabia, which corresponds to a large extent with the prevailing climatic conditions in North Africa.

The research team was able to identify five waves of human migration to Arabia from Africa, corresponding to improved climatic conditions and reduced drought.

The discovered stone industries, two of which date back to the Acheulean civilization and three to the Middle Paleolithic period, revealed details confirming the differing characteristics among these human groups.

The scientific team also presented the results of the archaeological study of the Jubbah site in Hail region, an ancient lake that contained archaeological layers similar to those found at the site of Khall Umayshan.

The study again provided information about the climatic conditions experienced by the region in prehistoric times.

The published scientific study, appended by a 120-page report of office, laboratory and field procedures that were carried out, utilized the latest technologies and scientific methods and brought together the efforts of researchers from a number of national and international institutions to reach the most accurate conclusions about the civilizational history of human groups in Arabia.