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Two Sets of Footprints May Be Earliest Known Evidence of Humans on the Arabian Peninsula

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Sep 18, 2020

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Image credit: KLINT JANULIS

Seven footprints discovered on lake sediments Al Nufud Al Kabir (Nefund) Desert, Saudi Arabia, could be the first evidence of human beings on the Arabian Peninsula. The research findings from this discovery, published in Science Advances, state the prints were made by at least two humans and could be anything between 112,000 and 121,000 years old.

Homo Sapiens had erratic migration patterns while moving out of Africa. In 2018, a jawbone fragment found in Israel was dated back 180,000 years. In 2019, human skull fragments found in Greece dated back to more than 200,000 years ago. The earliest previously known signs of life on the Arabian Peninsula dated back to 88,000 years ago, but this new discovery humans were there far earlier.

The Arabian Peninsula’s hyper-arid deserts seemed inhospitable to early humans and animals, which is why prehistory researchers paid relatively less attention to it, in comparison to Africa and Eurasia. However, research over the last decade showed that conditions in Arabia fluctuated significantly over the last million years. “At certain times in the past, the deserts that dominate the interior of the peninsula transformed into expansive grasslands with permanent freshwater lakes and rivers,” Richard Clark-Wilson, one of the study’s lead authors, said in a statement. “It was during these periods of climatic upturn that human and animal populations dispersed into the interior, as shown by the archaeological and fossil record.”


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Researchers also identified animal footprints among the human mix, including elephants, camels, and horses. The elephant presence was intriguing to researchers, as they believed the animal had gone extinct in that region around 400,000 years ago. Dense footprints, but no presence of stone tools and weapons, also led the researchers to assume the animal-human party was at the region for a short period of time only.

“We immediately realized the potential of these findings,” Mathew Stewart, one of the study’s lead authors, said in a statement. “Footprints are a unique form of fossil evidence in that they provide snapshots in time, typically representing a few hours or days, a resolution we tend not to get from other records.”

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Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is the senior culture writer at The Swaddle, with an interest in cultural analysis, environment, and the science of mental health.  Write to her using aditi@theswaddle.com, or find her on social media @aditimurti.

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