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Multiple hominin dispersals into Southwest Asia over the past 400,000 years

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Huw S. Groucutt, Tom S. White, Eleanor M. L. Scerri, Eric Andrieux, Richard Clark-wilson, Paul S. Breeze, Simon J. Armitage, Mathew Stewart, Nick Drake, Julien Louys, Gilbert J. Price, Mathieu Duval, Ash Parton, Ian Candy, W. Christopher Carleton, Ceri Shipton, Richard P. Jennings, Muhammad Zahir, James Blinkhorn, Simon Blockley & 3 more Abdulaziz Al-omari, Abdullah M. Alsharekh, Michael D. Petraglia

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)376-380
Number of pages5
Issue number7876
Early online date1 Sep 2021
Accepted/In press29 Jul 2021
E-pub ahead of print1 Sep 2021
Published16 Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: Acknowledgements We thank the Heritage Commission, Ministry of Culture, Saudi Arabia for fieldwork support and permission to conduct this research. The research was funded by the Max Planck Society, the European Research Council (295719 to M.D.P.), the British Academy (H.S.G.), the Leverhulme Trust (ECF-2019-538 to S.B., ECF-2019-538 to P.S.B. and PG-2017-087 to S.B., E.A., S.J.A. and M.D.P.), the Research Council of Norway, through its Centres of Excellence funding scheme, SFF Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour (SapienCE), project number 262618 (S.J.A.), the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) through its London DTP studentship funding (R.C.-W.), The Nature and Science Researchers Supporting Project (NSRSP-2021-5), DSFP, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (A.M.A.), the Leakey Foundation (M.S.) the Australian Research Council (FT160100450 to J.L. and FT150100215 to M.D.), and the Spanish Ramón y Cajal Fellowship (RYC2018-025221-I to M.D.). We thank L. Clark-Balzan for assistance with the luminescence dating, I. Cartwright for lithic photography and M. O’Reilly for assistance with figures. We thank the museums listed in the Supplementary Information for access to comparative collections. Publisher Copyright: © 2021, The Author(s). Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

King's Authors


Pleistocene hominin dispersals out of, and back into, Africa necessarily involved traversing the diverse and often challenging environments of Southwest Asia 1–4. Archaeological and palaeontological records from the Levantine woodland zone document major biological and cultural shifts, such as alternating occupations by Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. However, Late Quaternary cultural, biological and environmental records from the vast arid zone that constitutes most of Southwest Asia remain scarce, limiting regional-scale insights into changes in hominin demography and behaviour 1,2,5. Here we report a series of dated palaeolake sequences, associated with stone tool assemblages and vertebrate fossils, from the Khall Amayshan 4 and Jubbah basins in the Nefud Desert. These findings, including the oldest dated hominin occupations in Arabia, reveal at least five hominin expansions into the Arabian interior, coinciding with brief ‘green’ windows of reduced aridity approximately 400, 300, 200, 130–75 and 55 thousand years ago. Each occupation phase is characterized by a distinct form of material culture, indicating colonization by diverse hominin groups, and a lack of long-term Southwest Asian population continuity. Within a general pattern of African and Eurasian hominin groups being separated by Pleistocene Saharo-Arabian aridity, our findings reveal the tempo and character of climatically modulated windows for dispersal and admixture.

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