Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

Ancient Humans Utilized Lava Tube as Shelter on the Arabian Peninsula Over 7,000 Years Ago

Researchers in Saudi Arabia have discovered evidence that ancient humans lived in a lava tube on the Arabian Peninsula at least 7,000 years ago, with possible indications of earlier habitation. The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, highlight the Umm Jirsan lava tube as a significant archaeological site.

Located in the volcanic Harrat Khaybar field north of Medina, Umm Jirsan is the longest known lava tube in Arabia, stretching approximately 1,481 meters (4,859 feet). The tube provided an ideal environment for preserving artifacts, protected from harsh weather conditions and extreme temperature variations.

The archaeological team unearthed artifacts including fragments of cloth, worked wood, rock art depicting domesticated animals, and skeletal remains of nine humans. These discoveries suggest the tube was used intermittently by humans for at least 7,000 years, possibly extending back to 10,000 years based on radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence dating.

Evidence shows that the site was not used for permanent habitation but likely served as a temporary shelter for herders and their animals traveling along pastoral routes. This is further supported by the presence of domestic animal bones and rock art in the tube, which depict sheep and goats, key to the survival of these ancient people.

The analysis of human remains revealed dietary shifts over time, suggesting an increase in oasis agriculture during the Bronze Age. Chemical analyses indicated a rise in the consumption of cereals and fruits, marking a significant development in the subsistence strategies of the region.

Lava tubes, naturally formed by flowing lava under the ground’s surface, offer stable environments that have been utilized as shelters from prehistoric times to the present. The study’s co-author, Mathew Stewart, noted that such formations continue to serve various practical purposes for modern-day residents in the region.

The significance of this discovery extends beyond its archaeological value, providing insights into the adaptive strategies of ancient human populations in arid environments and their interactions with the local ecosystems. The findings underscore the importance of such natural formations in the study of human history and prehistoric life on the Arabian Peninsula.

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