Saudi Arabia, where monkey became man?

By Razib Khan | May 16, 2011 12:18 am

As late as the 1980s it is reputed that prominent Saudi clerics were making the case for geocentrism. Of course presumably most Saudis are not geocentrists, but their religious establishment is so calcified that medieval science still retains some hold upon their imaginations. That’s why I’m very, very, curious about the possibility which is emerging that a critical period of human evolution occurred in the Arabian peninsula. Maju points me to a paper in Quaternary Science Reviews which reports on the discovery of a site in north-central Saudi Arabia, the heartland of the House of Saud, which suggests human occupation ~75,000 years B.P. Middle Paleolithic occupation on a Marine Isotope Stage 5 lakeshore in the Nefud Desert, Saudi Arabia:

Major hydrological variations associated with glacial and interglacial climates in North Africa and the Levant have been related to Middle Paleolithic occupations and dispersals, but suitable archaeological sites to explore such relationships are rare on the Arabian Peninsula. Here we report the discovery of Middle Paleolithic assemblages in the Nefud Desert of northern Arabia associated with stratified deposits dated to 75,000 years ago. The site is located in close proximity to a substantial relict lake and indicates that Middle Paleolithic hominins penetrated deeply into the Arabian Peninsula to inhabit landscapes vegetated by grasses and some trees. Our discovery supports the hypothesis of range expansion by Middle Paleolithic populations into Arabia during the final humid phase of Marine Isotope Stage 5, when environmental conditions were still favorable.

The material describing the site is basically Greek to me, so I had to “hum” my way through. Let’s jump to the final paragraph:

Given the current absence of pre-Holocene hominin fossils in Arabia, and the fact that Levantine Mousterian assemblages are associated with both early modern humans and Neanderthals, caution is warranted in attributing a maker to the JQ1 and other Arabian Middle Paleolithic assemblages. The recovery of Middle Paleolithic artifacts at 75 ka, however, is consistent with the hypothesis that human populations utilized the southern route in MIS 5…If modern humans were responsible for the early Arabian toolkit, then our findings contradict the argument that the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa was accompanied by a microblade technology 60 ka ago…Furthermore, the presence of JQ1 in the interior of northern Arabia, 500 km from the nearest coast, indicates that an exclusive coastal corridor for hominin expansion out of Africa…can no longer be assumed. Further archaeological and paleoanthropological research across the Arabian Peninsula will address these questions. The discoveries described here demonstrate the huge research potential of the region and the intimate relationships between climate change and hominin population history.

The main implication of this finding, if it stands the test of time, is that there is now an accumulating body of evidence that the model circa 2005 that modern humans speciated ~60,000 years ago in East Africa and exploded from a narrow tight locus to all regions of the world rapidly in the “Out of Africa” event simply can not account for all the evidence. Parts of it may still be correct. There were wide swaths of the world which only anatomically modern humans settled. Oceania, the New World, and Siberia, for example. But an arrival in Australia 40-50,000 years ago would far post-date a possible initial foray of African humans into Arabia ~75-100,000 years B.P.


Comments (6)

  1. To the extent that the assemblages are Mousterian, in a time and region where Neanderthal presence is well established, but modern human presence is marginal and disputed, I’d be quite hesitant to attribute this tool kid to modern humans.

    On the other hand that point that a once more lush and habitable Saudi Arabian interior ca. 75,000 years ago before climate change turned it into the harsh desert that it is today makes an exclusive coastal corridor hominin epxansion out of African unnecessary is very credible.

    Moreover, because deserts, while deadly, are also good environments to preserve certain kind of biological remains, the prospect of discoveries that will make these finds less ambiguous in the next few years seems pretty good. What a jackpot it would be to find some dessicated natural mummies in an Arabian desert!

  2. Hal Barton

    It is quite true that Anatomically modern humans lived long before we have been able to find remains – there is no one who can definitively say that Homo Antecessor was not a modern human and she is at least 800,000 years old. Modern humans die in high and dry places and their remains are handled a lot by concerned relatives and friends – we don’t find many remains of them. But, Homo Neanderthal and lower types of hominids, like animals, when wounded or dying would crawl into dark and damp places to die or heal. There is a big mistake in Physical Anthropology, the “Mousterian Tools” they find near Neanderthals bones are not made by Neanderthals, but are merely the knives and forks we used to eat them – same as today we eat orangatangs and chimpanzees. Those are modern human tools and any objective scientist can easily see that fact.

  3. and lower types of hominids, like animals,

    lower type? you sound dumb.

  4. Robert

    “But, Homo Neanderthal and lower types of hominids, like animals, when wounded or dying would crawl into dark and damp places to die or heal.”

    Dark places maybe, but damp? Never heard of any primates that like being cold and wet. I certainly don’t.

  5. Gav

    From now on I’ll always carry a knife & fork with me, on the off-chance of meeting an orangatang.

  6. ackbark

    #2 has an air of special pleading about him.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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