Saudi Arabia discovers new archaeological site dating back to 350,000 years

May 12, 2021

Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — A new discovery has revealed the first dated Acheulean site in northern Saudi Arabia. The site called Al-Nasim, which is located in the Hail region, possesses paleoenvironmental evidence for an associated deep, probably fresh-water lake, as well as geomorphological, and palaeoecological features associated with Middle Pleistocene materials.

The revelation of the new discovery was made in an article titled "The expansion of Acheulean hominins into the Nefud Desert of Arabia" published recently in the Nature Scientific Report.

The recent results of the paleoenvironmental and archaeological surveys of the Green Arabian Project (GAP), which started 10 years ago, confirmed that the Arabian Peninsula experienced climatic shifts during the Pleistocene that produced wetter conditions, affecting the distribution of humans both within and between continents. This is particularly true of Acheulean communities, who appear more tethered to water sources than Middle Palaeolithic ones.

Al-Nasim represents one of the oldest documented Acheulean sites in Saudi Arabia, revealing regionally diverse stone tool assemblages used by Middle Pleistocene man, probably indicate repeated population re-entry into the peninsula in wet’ Green Arabia’ phases.

The site comprises a deep, narrow basin with outcrops visible in the central part where several Lower Palaeolithic artifacts were recovered. Approximately 354 artifacts were collected, primarily hand axes, together with various flakes.

The survey showed that archaeological materials are closely associated with the dry lake.

The article mentions that the discovered lithic tools are similar to those previously found at the Acheulean sites in the Nefud Desert.

Some flaked pieces indicate that the raw material was brought to the site, some were discarded after having been tested, as other pieces were very roughly shaped before being abandoned.

The broader surveys in the Nefud Desert indicate that this local quartzite was frequently used at other undated Acheulean assemblages, including hand axes diverse in form, ranging from ovate to cordiform and triangular forms, and variable in size, as at other Acheulean sites in Nefud Desert.

The Acheulean assemblage at Al-Nasim is late Middle Pleistocene in age, dating to between approximately 350,000 to 250,000 years, likely corresponding with the MIS 9 interglacial, when palaeolake formation was seemingly widespread in the Nefud Desert.

The similarity between the Acheulean material from An Nasim and other undated Acheulean sites in the Nefud Desert indicates that the paleolakes of this region provided an important corridor for man expansions and a viable habitation network for man and other mammals. The presence of diverse, small to large mammals, is evident at interglacial palaeolakes in the Nefud, indicating the expansions of animals into the region during wet phases and illustrating the availability of fauna as dietary resources at watering holes.

With participating Saudi experts, the Heritage Commission has been working on the completion of the scientific program the Green Arabian Project (GAP) in collaboration with their counterparts from Max Planck Institute for Human Development, which focuses on tracking back and studying the climate changes in the Arabian Peninsula over time, and between the beginning of man settlement and immigrations from ancient continents into Arabia.

The results of previous studies and investigations of the GAP show the presence of hundreds of paleolakes, rivers and forests, along with the animals, around which emerged several successive civilizations due to the mild climate at that time.

In 2020’s final quarter, the Heritage Commission disclosed traces of footprints of humans, elephants, camels, and predatory animals discovered at a dry paleolake dating more than 120,000 years, in Tabuk. This discovery is considered the first scientific evidence of the oldest footprints of man and animals in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Heritage Commission seeks, through “the Green Arabia Project” to carry out intensive surveys and systematic excavations to identify and gain insight into the ancient climatic conditions, nature of the prevailing paleoenvironment in Arabia, as well as human movements within the scope of the Heritage Commission’s efforts to excavate, preserve and promote the archaeological sites as part of the Saudi Vision 2030.

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