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Palaeohydrological corridors for hominin dispersals in the Middle East ∼250–70,000 years ago

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Paul S. Breeze, Huw S. Groucutt, Nick A. Drake, Tom S. White, Richard P. Jennings, Michael D. Petraglia

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-185
Number of pages31
Issue number0
Early online date3 Jun 2016
Accepted/In press10 May 2016
E-pub ahead of print3 Jun 2016
Published15 Jul 2016


King's Authors


The timing and extent of palaeoenvironmental connections between northeast Africa, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula during the Middle and Late Pleistocene are critical to debates surrounding dispersals of hominins, including movements of Homo sapiens out of Africa. Although there is evidence that synchronous episodes of climatic amelioration during the late Middle and Late Pleistocene may have allowed connections to form between northern Africa and western Asia, a number of palaeoclimate models indicate the continued existence of an arid barrier between northern Arabia and the Levant. Here we evaluate the palaeoenvironmental setting for hominin dispersals between, and within, northeast Africa and southwest Asia during Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 7–5 using reconstructions of surface freshwater availability as an environmental proxy. We use remotely sensed data to map palaeohydrological features (lakes, wetlands and rivers) across the presently hyper-arid areas of northern Arabia and surrounding regions, integrating these results with palaeoclimate models, palaeoenvironmental proxy data and absolute dating to determine when these features were active. Our analyses suggest limited potential for dispersals during MIS 7 and 6, but indicate the formation of a palaeohydrological corridor (the ‘Tabuk Corridor’) between the Levant and the Arabian interior during the MIS 6-5e glacial–interglacial transition and during MIS 5e. A recurrence of this corridor, following a slightly different route, also occurred during MIS 5a. These palaeohydrological and terrestrial data can be used to establish when proposed routes for hominin dispersals became viable. Furthermore, the distribution of Arabian archaeological sites with affinities to Levantine assemblages, some of which are associated with Homo sapiens fossils, and the relative density of Middle Palaeolithic assemblages within the Tabuk Corridor, are consistent with it being utilised for dispersals at various times.

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