Agence France-PresseSeptember 18, 2020 2:48:03 PM IST
About 120,000 years ago, in what is now northern Saudi Arabia, a small group of Homo Sapiens stopped at a shallow lake that was also frequented by camels, buffalo and elephants, which were larger than any species known today
Humans may have hunted the large mammals, but they didn̵
This detailed scene was reconstructed by researchers in a new study published in Advances in science on Thursday, after discovering ancient human and animal footprints in the Nefud Desert that shed new light on the paths of our ancient ancestors as they spread out of Africa.
Today the Arabian Peninsula is characterized by vast, arid deserts that would have been inhospitable to early humans and the animals they hunted.
However, research over the past decade has shown that this was not always the case – due to natural climatic variations, conditions were much greener and wetter during what is known as the last interglacial.
“At certain times in the past, the deserts that dominate the interior of the peninsula turned into expansive meadows with permanent freshwater lakes and rivers,” said study co-author Richard Clark-Wilson of Royal Holloway.
The newspaper’s first author, Mathew Stewart, from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Germany, told AFP that the footprints during his doctoral thesis in 2017 were found after the erosion of overlying sediments on an old lake called “Alathar” (“the trail “) were discovered. in Arabic).
“Footprints are a unique form of fossil evidence in that they provide snapshots that are typically a few hours or days. We don’t usually get that resolution from other records,” he said.
The prints were dated using a technique called optically stimulated luminescence – shining light on quartz grains and measuring the amount of energy they emit.
A green Arabia
In total, seven of the hundreds of prints discovered were safely identified as hominins, including four that were interpreted as two or three people traveling together due to their similar orientation, distances from one another, and differences in size.
The researchers argue that these, unlike Neanderthals, belonged to modern humans, as our extinct cousins were not known in the Middle East region at the time and were based on estimates of stature and mass derived from the prints.
“We know people visited this lake at the same time as these animals, and unusually for the area, there are no stone tools,” Stewart said, suggesting that people had made long-term colonization there.
“It appears that these people visited the lake for water resources and forage at the same time as the animals” and probably to hunt them.
The elephants, which became extinct in the nearby Levant about 400,000 years ago, would have been particularly attractive prey, and their presence suggests other abundant freshwater resources and abundant greenery as well.
In addition to the footprints, 233 fossils were recovered and it is likely that carnivores were attracted to the herbivores in Alathar, much as is the case today in African savannas.
According to the paper, fossils were first recorded for Homo sapiens outside Africa between about 210 and 180,000 years ago in southern Greece and the Levant.
The new paper shows that “inland routes along lakes and rivers may have been particularly important to people moving away from Africa,” Stewart said.
“The presence of large animals such as elephants and hippos, as well as open grasslands and large water resources, may have made northern Arabia a particularly attractive place for people moving between Africa and Eurasia,” added the study’s lead author, Michael Petraglia of Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.