Monday 28 March 2016

Middle Palaeolithic stone tools from the Nejd Region of Saudi Arabia.

For many years much of the Arabian peninsula was largely overlooked by palaeoarchaeologists who tended to concentrate on the more accessible Levant region of the Middle East, despite surveys in the 1970s and early 1980s which suggested there was much material to be found in Arabia. However in recent years the peninsula has been recognized as an important route for early Humans (and earlier Hominins) dispersing from Africa into Asia, and more attention has begun to be paid to the region.

In a paper published in the Journal of Field Archaeology on 16 March 2016, a team of archaeologists led by Huw Groucutt of the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford describe a series of new sites yielding Middle Palaeolithic material from the Nejd Region of central Saudi Arabia.

The Nejd region has yielded a number of previous Middle Palaeolithic sites, suggesting that Humans or Hominins using these technologies were present in the area. Groucott et al. identified likely sites be examination of satelite images of palaeodrainage systems (dried up rivers, lakes etc.), then carrying out foot surveys of these sites. None of the sites examined has been dated yet, but rather are described as Middle Palaeolithic on the basis of the technologies used.

The first site examined Al Qana-1, is located on the outskirts of the village of Al Qana on the southern fringe of the Nafud Desert. The area has previously yielded Neolithic remains, an was identified as having sediments likely to be of interest in satelite images. A series of artifacts were found on the surface the edge of an aluvial fan extending from mountains to the south, which extends beneath the surrounding dunes, indicating that it is older. Three small test trenches dug into the sediments yielded no buried artifacts.

Test trench at Al Qana-1, dark blue items on surface are all Middle Palaeolithic rhyolite lithics. Groucott et al. (2016).

The lithic (stone) tools recovered at Al Qana-1 are made of dark blue rhyolite (a silica-rich volcanic rock) with numerous phenocrysts (large, visible crystals of a different mineral). A rhyolite dyke (volcanic intrusion) was located close to the site, suggesting that the material used was of local origin. Nevertheless rhyolite stone tools are unusual, and have not previously been described from Saudi Arabia; the only previously described rhyolite tool assemblage from Arabia comes from the late Middle Palaeolithic Wadi Surdud site in Yemen. A total of 40 artifacts were collected from Al Qana-1, these being predominantly discoidal cores (cores from which flakes have been chipped away), similar to Levallois cores (in Levallois technology initial flakes are chipped away from a central core, in order to produce a worked core from which more specialized flakes can be chipped for use as tools).

Al Qana-1 lithics, all rhyolite. (A) Levallois-like discoidal core; (B, C) Discoidal cores; (D) Levallois-like discoidal core; (E, F) Flakes; (G) Side retouched flake; (H) overshot discoidal flake. Groucott et al. (2016).

The second site examined, Shuwaymis 11, is beside a river channel connested to a tributaty of the Wadi al Batin, which flows from the Shuwaymis Region (noted for its Neolithic rock art) towards Kuwait. The channel cuts through a basalt lava flow, though most of the material found here was again of rhyolite, this being orange-brown in colour and apparently derived from nodules within the river. The tools were concentrated in a small area, roughly 60 m by 20 m, and were predominantly of the Levallois-type.

Shuwaymis 11 lithics, all rhyolite. (A, B) Preferential Levallois core with centripetal preparation; (C) Bidirectional Levallois core with centripetal preparation. Groucott et al. (2016).

The third site examined Dawadmi-23, is located on top of one of the numerous volcanic dykes cutting through the area around the town of Dawadmi, which comprises material that was injected into overlying sedimentary rock, and which has persisted after that rock was eroded away, forming a raised platform. The Dawadmi area area is known for a number of Early Palaeolithic sites, though relatively little Middle Palaeolithic material has been found there. The Dawadmi-23 site is about 90 km to the northwest of the town of Dawadmi, close to the villages of Badayi bin Naim and Al Mushash. The dyke which produced the material is felsic (silicone rich) and relatively unfractured compared to other dykes in the area, suggesting that it may comprise more suitable material for tool-making. A number of Early Palaeolithic hand-axes were found downslope of the dyke, with Middle Palaeolithic material upslope, closer to the exposed surface of the dyke.

Dawadmi-23, a dense combination of natural and knapped stone beneath a dyke (back left). Groucott et al. (2016).

The site produced a low density assemblage, comprising a few hundred Middle Palaeolithic objects made from a fine-grianed microgranite. This tool assemblage is dominated by Levallois-type cores, though it demonstrates a number of different approaches to toolmaking being used.

Dawadmi-23 lithics, all micogranite. (A) Preferential Levallois core with centripetal preparation; (B, C) Bidirectional Levallois core with centripetal preparation; (D) Core for a preferential flake, but non-Levallois volumetric configuration; (E) Pointed flake with bidirectional scar pattern; (F) Débordant-like flake. Groucott et al. (2016).

The forth site examined Az Zu’aynah-2, is located on a food plain within a stiil active wadi (channel through which water flows following episodes of rain) to the east of Dawadmi, a few meters above the active channel. This site yielded a low-density assemblage of Levallois-type artifacts, mostly made from a fine-grained material, though a single rhyolite object was found.

Az Zu’aynah-2 lithics, all fine grained igneous raw material other than A (rhyolite). (A, B) Recurrent centripetal Levallois cores; (C–E) Levallois flakes. Groucott et al. (2016).

The final site discussed, Jebel Abyad-1, is located on an isolated quartz hill in the Dawadmi area. A small number of Early Palaeolithic quartz habdaxes were found close to the hill, and a small number of Middle Palaeolithic objects about half way up one slope, though it is possible that more objects were overlooked due to the large amount of fractured quartz present at the site. The Middle Palaeolithic material consisted of a number of Levallois cores.

Jebel Abyad-1 lithics, all quartz. (A, C) preferential Levallois core with centripetal preparation; (B) Discoidal core; (D, E) Thick flakes with faceted platforms, centripetal scar patterns and cortex at distal ends. Groucott et al. (2016).

See also... and Levallois technologies from a single Late Pleistocene site Armenia.        Stone tools associated with the Acheulian technology first appeared around 1.75 million years ago and spread across much of Eurasia from about 900 000 years... tools from the Middle to Late Pleistocene of the Nefud Desert.                 The Nefud Desert lies in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, and is thought to have been one of the key obstacles that early Humans, and other Hominids, had to pass as they expanded out of Africa...
The Thar Desert covers over  200,000 km² of land in the northwest part of the Indian Subcontinent, straddling the border between Pakistan and India. It marks the boundary between the deserts of North Africa and the...
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