Notable: Acheulean in the deserts of Arabia

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Notable paper: Shipton, Ceri, Ash Parton, Paul Breeze, Richard Jennings, Huw S. Groucutt, Tom S. White, Nicholas Drake, Remy Crassard, Abdullah Alsharekh, and Michael D. Petraglia (2014) Large Flake Acheulean in the Nefud Desert of Northern Arabia. PaleoAnthropology 2014:446-462. doi:10.4207/PA.2014.ART85

Synopsis: The authors are part of the University of Oxford Palaeodeserts Project, and they report on the results of survey work in the Nefud Desert of Northern Arabia. They located four sites with Acheulean bifaces, documenting human occupations during wetter climatic phases when large lakes formed in the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula.

Important because: Although later sites representing Middle Paleolithic industries are known from northern Arabia, the earlier time period has so far been represented mainly from the coastal fringe and the Hadramaut. Northern Arabia helps to fill a handax-sized hole between the well-known sites of the Levant and those of India.

But… It is misleading to cast the archaeological problem as one of routes of dispersal to India. There were hundreds of thousands of years at play, small hunter-gatherer bands fluctuating along with the local climates. The comparatively well-watered Levant and Mesopotamia were always connected through Syria and southern Turkey – the “fertile crescent”. That makes northern Arabia a similar case to much of the Sahara, an area that nearby human populations may have raced to exploit during the occasional time intervals when rainfall was higher. A serious area of pulsed exploitation outside of Africa may have figured into gene flow or dispersal through much of Asia, without being a “connection” between geographic regions.