Ancient Oasis

Look: Ancient humans crossed this unlikely path for 400,000 years

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The Arabian Peninsula was a vital gateway for our ancient human ancestors to spill out of Africa and into Asia and Europe.

Michael Petraglia

But a majority of that region is desert.

So how did early Homo sapiens survive in such harsh, arid climates?

New research shows they may have moved in at least 5 migratory phases over 400,000 years.

A fluctuating climate helped Homo sapiens find periodic refuge in a region that was otherwise tough to weather.

Klint Janulis

Eleanor Scerri

Researchers writing in a September 1 report in the journal Nature describe stone tools and animal fossils found in the Nefud Desert in northern Saudi Arabia. These point to early human habitation.

This stone tool, which researchers call a “handaxe,” was unearthed at a site called Khall Amayshan 4. It is estimated to be about 400,000 years old.

Ian Cartwright

Stewart et. al, Quaternary Research

Archeological sites in the Nefud were once home to ancient lakes and have earned recent archaeological interest.

“The dispersal of our species from Africa into Asia was ... probably shaped by pulses of immigration when there were short windows of opportunity.”

Robin Dennell, archaeologist at the University of Exeter, writing in a related Sept. 1 Nature column.

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Ceri Shipton

In 2018, one team uncovered a 88,000-year-old fossilized Homo sapien finger bone in the Nefud Desert, which shifted our understanding of ancient human migration.

The new Nature study suggests the desert may have been home to not only our species but other early hominins as well.

Neanderthals, who are known to have been present in the northern Levant, could have mingled in the desert with Homo sapiens.

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But much remains to be uncovered — literally — about when and where our ancient ancestors lived.

Read more stories about science here.

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