Epipalaeolithic occupation and palaeoenvironments of the southern Nefud desert, Saudi Arabia, during the Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene
- Resource Type
- ACADEMIC JOURNAL
- In Journal of Archaeological Science October 2014 50:460-474
The transition from the Terminal Pleistocene to the Early Holocene is poorly represented in the geological and archaeological records of northern Arabia, and the climatic conditions that prevailed in the region during that period are unclear. Here, we present a new record from the site of Al-Rabyah, in the Jubbah basin (southern Nefud desert, Saudi Arabia), where a sequence of fossiliferous lacustrine and palustrine deposits containing an archaeological assemblage is preserved. Sedimentological and palaeoenvironmental investigations, both at Al-Rabyah and elsewhere in the Jubbah area, indicate phases of humid conditions, during which shallow lakes developed in the basin, separated by drier periods. At Al-Rabyah, the end of a Terminal Pleistocene phase of lake expansion has been dated to ∼12.2 ka using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), with a mid-Holocene humid phase dated to after ∼6.6 ka. Palaeoecological reconstructions based primarily on non-marine molluscs and ostracods from the younger lacustrine deposits indicate a relatively shallow body of freshwater surrounded by moist, well-vegetated environments. A lithic assemblage characterized by bladelets and geometric microliths was excavated from sediments attributed to a drier climatic phase dated to ∼10.1 ka. The lithic artefact types exhibit similarities to Epipalaeolithic industries of the Levant, and their occurrence well beyond the ‘core region’ of such assemblages (and at a significantly later date) has important implications for understanding interactions between Levantine and Arabian populations during the Terminal Pleistocene–Early Holocene. We suggest that the presence of foraging populations in the southern Nefud during periods of drier climate is due to the prolonged presence of a freshwater oasis in the Jubbah Basin during the Terminal Pleistocene–Early Holocene, which enabled them to subsist in the region when neighbouring areas of northern Arabia and the Levant were increasingly hostile.