About 120,000 years ago, in what is now northern Saudi Arabia, a small group of homo sapiens stopped to drink and forage on a shallow lake that was also frequented by camels, buffaloes, and elephants, larger than any other species seen today. Humans may have hunted large mammals, but they didn’t stay long, using the watering hole as a waypoint on their long journey. This detailed scene was reconstructed by researchers in a new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances after the discovery of ancient human and animal footprints in the Nefud Desert, which shed new light on the routes our ancient ancestors took from Africa, AFP reports. The research is published in the journal Science Advances.
Today, the Arabian Peninsula is characterized by vast arid deserts that would have been inhospitable to the first humans and animals they hunted. But research over the past decade has shown that this has not always been the case – due to natural climatic changes, conditions here were greener and wetter during the period known as the last interglacial.
Arabia at the time was more like the semi-arid grasslands of the modern African savannah.
The first author of the article, Matthew Stewart of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Germany, in an interview with AFP, explained that the traces were found during his fieldwork in 2017 after the erosion of overlying sediments on an ancient lake called “Alatar” (which means “Trace” in Arabic).
The prints were dated using Stimulated Optical Luminescence – light penetrated the quartz grains and scientists measured the amount of energy they emitted.
A total of seven of the hundreds of prints found have been confidently identified as hominins, including four that, given their distances from each other and differences in size, have been interpreted as two or three people traveling together.
The researchers claim that they belonged to anatomically modern humans.
“We know that people visited this lake at the same time as these animals, and, which is unusual in the area, there are no stone tools here,” Stewart said, indicating that people have settled here for a longer period.
“It seems that these people were visiting the lake in search of water resources and just to forage at the same time as the animals” and probably hunt them as well”.
Elephants, which became extinct in the neighboring Levantine region about 400,000 years ago, would be particularly attractive prey, and their presence also suggests other abundant resources of freshwater and greenery.
“The presence of large animals such as elephants and hippos, together with open grasslands and large water resources, may have made northern Arabia a particularly attractive destination for people traveling between Africa and Eurasia,” concludes senior study author Michael Petraglia of the Max Institute for Human History. Plank.