Publications by authors named "Nick Drake"

17 Publications

  • Page 1 of 1

The expansion of Acheulean hominins into the Nefud Desert of Arabia.

Sci Rep 2021 May 12;11(1):10111. Epub 2021 May 12.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Kahlaische Strasse. 10, 07745, Jena, Germany.

The Arabian Peninsula is a critical geographic landmass situated between Africa and the rest of Eurasia. Climatic shifts across the Pleistocene periodically produced wetter conditions in Arabia, dramatically altering the spatial distribution of hominins both within and between continents. This is particularly true of Acheulean hominins, who appear to have been more tethered to water sources than Middle Palaeolithic hominins. However, until recently, chrono-cultural knowledge of the Acheulean of Arabia has been limited to one dated site, which indicated a hominin presence in Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 7-6. Here, we report the first dated Acheulean site from the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia, together with palaeoecological evidence for an associated deep, probably fresh-water, lake. The site of An Nasim features varied and often finely flaked façonnage handaxes. Luminescence ages together with geomorphological and palaeoecological evidence indicates that the associated artefacts date to MIS 9. At present, An Nasim represents the oldest yet documented Acheulean sites in Arabia, and adds to a growing picture of regionally diverse stone tool assemblages used by Middle Pleistocene hominins, and likely indicative of repeated population re-entry into the peninsula in wet 'Green Arabia' phases.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-89489-6DOI Listing
May 2021

Monumental landscapes of the Holocene humid period in Northern Arabia: The mustatil phenomenon.

Holocene 2020 Dec 17;30(12):1767-1779. Epub 2020 Aug 17.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

Between 10 and six thousand years ago the Arabian Peninsula saw the most recent of the 'Green Arabia' periods, when increased rainfall transformed this generally arid region. The transition to the Neolithic in Arabia occurred during this period of climatic amelioration. Various forms of stone structures are abundant in northern Arabia, and it has been speculated that some of these dated to the Neolithic, but there has been little research on their character and chronology. Here we report a study of 104 'mustatil' stone structures from the southern margins of the Nefud Desert in northern Arabia. We provide the first chronometric age estimate for this type of structure - a radiocarbon date of ca. 5000 BC - and describe their landscape positions, architecture and associated material culture and faunal remains. The structure we have dated is the oldest large-scale stone structure known from the Arabian Peninsula. The mustatil phenomenon represents a remarkable development of monumental architecture, as hundreds of these structures were built in northwest Arabia. This 'monumental landscape' represents one of the earliest large-scale forms of monumental stone structure construction anywhere in the world. Further research is needed to understand the function of these structures, but we hypothesise that they were related to rituals in the context of the adoption of pastoralism and resulting territoriality in the challenging environments of northern Arabia.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0959683620950449DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7575307PMC
December 2020

Human footprints provide snapshot of last interglacial ecology in the Arabian interior.

Sci Adv 2020 Sep 18;6(38). Epub 2020 Sep 18.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Kahlaische Strasse 10, D-07743 Jena, Germany.

The nature of human dispersals out of Africa has remained elusive because of the poor resolution of paleoecological data in direct association with remains of the earliest non-African people. Here, we report hominin and non-hominin mammalian tracks from an ancient lake deposit in the Arabian Peninsula, dated within the last interglacial. The findings, it is argued, likely represent the oldest securely dated evidence for in Arabia. The paleoecological evidence indicates a well-watered semi-arid grassland setting during human movements into the Nefud Desert of Saudi Arabia. We conclude that visitation to the lake was transient, likely serving as a place to drink and to forage, and that late Pleistocene human and mammalian migrations and landscape use patterns in Arabia were inexorably linked.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aba8940DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7500939PMC
September 2020

The expansion of later Acheulean hominins into the Arabian Peninsula.

Sci Rep 2018 11 29;8(1):17165. Epub 2018 Nov 29.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

The Acheulean is the longest lasting cultural-technological tradition in human evolutionary history. However, considerable gaps remain in understanding the chronology and geographical distribution of Acheulean hominins. We present the first chronometrically dated Acheulean site from the Arabian Peninsula, a vast and poorly known region that forms more than half of Southwest Asia. Results show that Acheulean hominin occupation expanded along hydrological networks into the heart of Arabia from Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 7 until at least ~190 ka ̶ the youngest documented Acheulean in Southwest Asia. The site of Saffaqah features Acheulean technology, characterized by large flakes, handaxes and cleavers, similar to Acheulean assemblages in Africa. These findings reveal a climatically-mediated later Acheulean expansion into a poorly known region, amplifying the documented diversity of Middle Pleistocene hominin behaviour across the Old World and elaborating the terminal archaic landscape encountered by our species as they dispersed out of Africa.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-35242-5DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6265249PMC
November 2018

Fossil herbivore stable isotopes reveal middle Pleistocene hominin palaeoenvironment in 'Green Arabia'.

Nat Ecol Evol 2018 12 29;2(12):1871-1878. Epub 2018 Oct 29.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

Despite its largely hyper-arid and inhospitable climate today, the Arabian Peninsula is emerging as an important area for investigating Pleistocene hominin dispersals. Recently, a member of our own species was found in northern Arabia dating to ca. 90 ka, while stone tools and fossil finds have hinted at an earlier, middle Pleistocene, hominin presence. However, there remain few direct insights into Pleistocene environments, and associated hominin adaptations, that accompanied the movement of populations into this region. Here, we apply stable carbon and oxygen isotope analysis to fossil mammal tooth enamel (n = 21) from the middle Pleistocene locality of Ti's al Ghadah in Saudi Arabia associated with newly discovered stone tools and probable cutmarks. The results demonstrate productive grasslands in the interior of the Arabian Peninsula ca. 300-500 ka, as well as aridity levels similar to those found in open savannah settings in eastern Africa today. The association between this palaeoenvironmental information and the earliest traces for hominin activity in this part of the world lead us to argue that middle Pleistocene hominin dispersals into the interior of the Arabian Peninsula required no major novel adaptation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0698-9DOI Listing
December 2018

Acheulean technology and landscape use at Dawadmi, central Arabia.

PLoS One 2018 27;13(7):e0200497. Epub 2018 Jul 27.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

Despite occupying a central geographic position, investigations of hominin populations in the Arabian Peninsula during the Lower Palaeolithic period are rare. The colonization of Eurasia below 55 degrees latitude indicates the success of the genus Homo in the Early and Middle Pleistocene, but the extent to which these hominins were capable of innovative and novel behavioural adaptations to engage with mid-latitude environments is unclear. Here we describe new field investigations at the Saffaqah locality (206-76) near Dawadmi, in central Arabia that aim to establish how hominins adapted to this region. The site is located in the interior of Arabia over 500 km from both the Red Sea and the Gulf, and at the headwaters of two major extinct river systems that were likely used by Acheulean hominins to cross the Peninsula. Saffaqah is one of the largest Acheulean sites in Arabia with nearly a million artefacts estimated to occur on the surface, and it is also the first to yield stratified deposits containing abundant artefacts. It is situated in the unusual setting of a dense and well-preserved landscape of Acheulean localities, with sites and isolated artefacts occurring regularly for tens of kilometres in every direction. We describe both previous and recent excavations at Saffaqah and its large lithic assemblage. We analyse thousands of artefacts from excavated and surface contexts, including giant andesite cores and flakes, smaller cores and retouched artefacts, as well as handaxes and cleavers. Technological assessment of stratified lithics and those from systematic survey, enable the reconstruction of stone tool life histories. The Acheulean hominins at Dawadmi were strong and skilful, with their adaptation evidently successful for some time. However, these biface-makers were also technologically conservative, and used least-effort strategies of resource procurement and tool transport. Ultimately, central Arabia was depopulated, likely in the face of environmental deterioration in the form of increasing aridity.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0200497PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6063418PMC
January 2019

Did Our Species Evolve in Subdivided Populations across Africa, and Why Does It Matter?

Trends Ecol Evol 2018 08 11;33(8):582-594. Epub 2018 Jul 11.

Laboratoire Évolution & Diversité Biologique (EDB UMR 5174), Université de Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées, CNRS, IRD, UPS. 118 route de Narbonne, Bat 4R1, 31062 Toulouse cedex 9, France; Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, P-2780-156, Oeiras, Portugal.

We challenge the view that our species, Homo sapiens, evolved within a single population and/or region of Africa. The chronology and physical diversity of Pleistocene human fossils suggest that morphologically varied populations pertaining to the H. sapiens clade lived throughout Africa. Similarly, the African archaeological record demonstrates the polycentric origin and persistence of regionally distinct Pleistocene material culture in a variety of paleoecological settings. Genetic studies also indicate that present-day population structure within Africa extends to deep times, paralleling a paleoenvironmental record of shifting and fractured habitable zones. We argue that these fields support an emerging view of a highly structured African prehistory that should be considered in human evolutionary inferences, prompting new interpretations, questions, and interdisciplinary research directions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2018.05.005DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6092560PMC
August 2018

Homo sapiens in Arabia by 85,000 years ago.

Nat Ecol Evol 2018 05 9;2(5):800-809. Epub 2018 Apr 9.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

Understanding the timing and character of the expansion of Homo sapiens out of Africa is critical for inferring the colonization and admixture processes that underpin global population history. It has been argued that dispersal out of Africa had an early phase, particularly ~130-90 thousand years ago (ka), that reached only the East Mediterranean Levant, and a later phase, ~60-50 ka, that extended across the diverse environments of Eurasia to Sahul. However, recent findings from East Asia and Sahul challenge this model. Here we show that H. sapiens was in the Arabian Peninsula before 85 ka. We describe the Al Wusta-1 (AW-1) intermediate phalanx from the site of Al Wusta in the Nefud desert, Saudi Arabia. AW-1 is the oldest directly dated fossil of our species outside Africa and the Levant. The palaeoenvironmental context of Al Wusta demonstrates that H. sapiens using Middle Palaeolithic stone tools dispersed into Arabia during a phase of increased precipitation driven by orbital forcing, in association with a primarily African fauna. A Bayesian model incorporating independent chronometric age estimates indicates a chronology for Al Wusta of ~95-86 ka, which we correlate with a humid episode in the later part of Marine Isotope Stage 5 known from various regional records. Al Wusta shows that early dispersals were more spatially and temporally extensive than previously thought. Early H. sapiens dispersals out of Africa were not limited to winter rainfall-fed Levantine Mediterranean woodlands immediately adjacent to Africa, but extended deep into the semi-arid grasslands of Arabia, facilitated by periods of enhanced monsoonal rainfall.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0518-2DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5935238PMC
May 2018

Rethinking the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa.

Evol Anthropol 2015 Jul-Aug;24(4):149-64

Current fossil, genetic, and archeological data indicate that Homo sapiens originated in Africa in the late Middle Pleistocene. By the end of the Late Pleistocene, our species was distributed across every continent except Antarctica, setting the foundations for the subsequent demographic and cultural changes of the Holocene. The intervening processes remain intensely debated and a key theme in hominin evolutionary studies. We review archeological, fossil, environmental, and genetic data to evaluate the current state of knowledge on the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa. The emerging picture of the dispersal process suggests dynamic behavioral variability, complex interactions between populations, and an intricate genetic and cultural legacy. This evolutionary and historical complexity challenges simple narratives and suggests that hybrid models and the testing of explicit hypotheses are required to understand the expansion of Homo sapiens into Eurasia.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/evan.21455DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6715448PMC
May 2016

West African monsoon dynamics inferred from abrupt fluctuations of Lake Mega-Chad.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2015 Jul 29;112(28):8543-8. Epub 2015 Jun 29.

Department of Geography, King's College London, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS, United Kingdom.

From the deglacial period to the mid-Holocene, North Africa was characterized by much wetter conditions than today. The broad timing of this period, termed the African Humid Period, is well known. However, the rapidity of the onset and termination of the African Humid Period are contested, with strong evidence for both abrupt and gradual change. We use optically stimulated luminescence dating of dunes, shorelines, and fluviolacustrine deposits to reconstruct the fluctuations of Lake Mega-Chad, which was the largest pluvial lake in Africa. Humid conditions first occur at ∼ 15 ka, and by 11.5 ka, Lake Mega-Chad had reached a highstand, which persisted until 5.0 ka. Lake levels fell rapidly at ∼ 5 ka, indicating abrupt aridification across the entire Lake Mega-Chad Basin. This record provides strong terrestrial evidence that the African Humid Period ended abruptly, supporting the hypothesis that the African monsoon responds to insolation forcing in a markedly nonlinear manner. In addition, Lake Mega-Chad exerts strong control on global biogeochemical cycles because the northern (Bodélé) basin is currently the world's greatest single dust source and possibly an important source of limiting nutrients for both the Amazon Basin and equatorial Atlantic. However, we demonstrate that the final desiccation of the Bodélé Basin occurred around 1 ka. Consequently, the present-day mode and scale of dust production from the Bodélé Basin cannot have occurred before 1 ka, suggesting that its role in fertilizing marine and terrestrial ecosystems is either overstated or geologically recent.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1417655112DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4507243PMC
July 2015

Middle palaeolithic and neolithic occupations around Mundafan Palaeolake, Saudi Arabia: implications for climate change and human dispersals.

PLoS One 2013 24;8(7):e69665. Epub 2013 Jul 24.

CNRS, UMR 5133 'Archéorient', Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée, Lyon, France.

The Arabian Peninsula is a key region for understanding climate change and human occupation history in a marginal environment. The Mundafan palaeolake is situated in southern Saudi Arabia, in the Rub' al-Khali (the 'Empty Quarter'), the world's largest sand desert. Here we report the first discoveries of Middle Palaeolithic and Neolithic archaeological sites in association with the palaeolake. We associate the human occupations with new geochronological data, and suggest the archaeological sites date to the wet periods of Marine Isotope Stage 5 and the Early Holocene. The archaeological sites indicate that humans repeatedly penetrated the ameliorated environments of the Rub' al-Khali. The sites probably represent short-term occupations, with the Neolithic sites focused on hunting, as indicated by points and weaponry. Middle Palaeolithic assemblages at Mundafan support a lacustrine adaptive focus in Arabia. Provenancing of obsidian artifacts indicates that Neolithic groups at Mundafan had a wide wandering range, with transport of artifacts from distant sources.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0069665PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3722113PMC
February 2014

Beyond the Levant: first evidence of a pre-pottery Neolithic incursion into the Nefud Desert, Saudi Arabia.

PLoS One 2013 19;8(7):e68061. Epub 2013 Jul 19.

CNRS, Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée, UMR 5133 Archéorient, Lyon, France.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic assemblages are best known from the fertile areas of the Mediterranean Levant. The archaeological site of Jebel Qattar 101 (JQ-101), at Jubbah in the southern part of the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia, contains a large collection of stone tools, adjacent to an Early Holocene palaeolake. The stone tool assemblage contains lithic types, including El-Khiam and Helwan projectile points, which are similar to those recorded in Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B assemblages in the Fertile Crescent. Jebel Qattar lies ∼500 kilometres outside the previously identified geographic range of Pre-Pottery Neolithic cultures. Technological analysis of the typologically diagnostic Jebel Qattar 101 projectile points indicates a unique strategy to manufacture the final forms, thereby raising the possibility of either direct migration of Levantine groups or the acculturation of mobile communities in Arabia. The discovery of the Early Holocene site of Jebel Qattar suggests that our view of the geographic distribution and character of Pre-Pottery Neolithic cultures may be in need of revision.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0068061PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3716651PMC
March 2014

Hominin dispersal into the Nefud Desert and Middle palaeolithic settlement along the Jubbah Palaeolake, Northern Arabia.

PLoS One 2012 19;7(11):e49840. Epub 2012 Nov 19.

School of Archaeology, Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.

The Arabian Peninsula is a key region for understanding hominin dispersals and the effect of climate change on prehistoric demography, although little information on these topics is presently available owing to the poor preservation of archaeological sites in this desert environment. Here, we describe the discovery of three stratified and buried archaeological sites in the Nefud Desert, which includes the oldest dated occupation for the region. The stone tool assemblages are identified as a Middle Palaeolithic industry that includes Levallois manufacturing methods and the production of tools on flakes. Hominin occupations correspond with humid periods, particularly Marine Isotope Stages 7 and 5 of the Late Pleistocene. The Middle Palaeolithic occupations were situated along the Jubbah palaeolake-shores, in a grassland setting with some trees. Populations procured different raw materials across the lake region to manufacture stone tools, using the implements to process plants and animals. To reach the Jubbah palaeolake, Middle Palaeolithic populations travelled into the ameliorated Nefud Desert interior, possibly gaining access from multiple directions, either using routes from the north and west (the Levant and the Sinai), the north (the Mesopotamian plains and the Euphrates basin), or the east (the Persian Gulf). The Jubbah stone tool assemblages have their own suite of technological characters, but have types reminiscent of both African Middle Stone Age and Levantine Middle Palaeolithic industries. Comparative inter-regional analysis of core technology indicates morphological similarities with the Levantine Tabun C assemblage, associated with human fossils controversially identified as either Neanderthals or Homo sapiens.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0049840PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3501467PMC
May 2013

Ancient watercourses and biogeography of the Sahara explain the peopling of the desert.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2011 Jan 27;108(2):458-62. Epub 2010 Dec 27.

Department of Geography, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, United Kingdom.

Evidence increasingly suggests that sub-Saharan Africa is at the center of human evolution and understanding routes of dispersal "out of Africa" is thus becoming increasingly important. The Sahara Desert is considered by many to be an obstacle to these dispersals and a Nile corridor route has been proposed to cross it. Here we provide evidence that the Sahara was not an effective barrier and indicate how both animals and humans populated it during past humid phases. Analysis of the zoogeography of the Sahara shows that more animals crossed via this route than used the Nile corridor. Furthermore, many of these species are aquatic. This dispersal was possible because during the Holocene humid period the region contained a series of linked lakes, rivers, and inland deltas comprising a large interlinked waterway, channeling water and animals into and across the Sahara, thus facilitating these dispersals. This system was last active in the early Holocene when many species appear to have occupied the entire Sahara. However, species that require deep water did not reach northern regions because of weak hydrological connections. Human dispersals were influenced by this distribution; Nilo-Saharan speakers hunting aquatic fauna with barbed bone points occupied the southern Sahara, while people hunting Savannah fauna with the bow and arrow spread southward. The dating of lacustrine sediments show that the "green Sahara" also existed during the last interglacial (∼125 ka) and provided green corridors that could have formed dispersal routes at a likely time for the migration of modern humans out of Africa.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1012231108DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3021035PMC
January 2011

10-daily soil erosion modelling over sub-Saharan Africa.

Environ Monit Assess 2010 Feb 4;161(1-4):369-87. Epub 2009 Mar 4.

Department of Geography, University of the Aegean, Lofos Panepistimiou, Mytilene, 81100, Greece.

Soil erosion is considered to be one of the greatest environmental problems of sub-Saharan Africa. This paper investigates the advantages and disadvantages of modelling soil erosion at the continental scale and suggests an operational methodology for mapping and quantifying 10-daily water runoff and soil erosion over this scale using remote sensing data in a geographical information system framework. An attempt is made to compare the estimates of this study with general data on the severity of soil erosion over Africa and with measured rates of soil loss at different locations over the continent. The results show that the measured and estimated rates of erosion are in some areas very similar and in general within the same order of magnitude. The importance and the potential of using the soil erosion estimates with simple models and easily accessible free data for various continental-scale environmental applications are also demonstrated.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10661-009-0754-7DOI Listing
February 2010

GIS and multiple-criteria evaluation for the optimisation of tsetse fly eradication programmes.

Environ Monit Assess 2007 Jan 21;124(1-3):89-103. Epub 2006 Oct 21.

CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences, Private Bag 5, Wembley 6913, Western Australia, Australia.

Tsetse flies are the vectors of trypanosomes, the causal agent of trypanosomiasis, a widespread disease of livestock and people in Africa. Control of tsetse may open vast areas of land to livestock-keeping, with the associated benefits of developing mixed crop-livestock production systems. However, as well as possible positive impacts there are also risks: bush clearing would accelerate and cattle numbers would rise, leading to a reduction of vegetation cover, and an increase in runoff and erosion; there may also be increased pressure on conserved areas and reductions in biodiversity. The objective of this study is to show how remotely sensed and other environmental data can be combined in a decision support system to help inform tsetse control programmes in a manner that could be used to limit possible detrimental effects of tsetse control. For Zambia, a methodology is developed that combines a tree-based decision-support approach with the use of Multiple-Criteria Evaluation (MCE), within a Geographical Information System (GIS), in order to target areas for tsetse control. The results show clear differentiation of priority areas under a series of hypothetical scenarios, and some areas (e.g. northwest of Petauke in the Eastern Province of Zambia) are consistently flagged as high priority for control. It is also demonstrated that priority areas do not comprise isolated tsetse populations, meaning that disease control using an integrated approach is likely to be more economically viable than local eradication.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10661-006-9210-0DOI Listing
January 2007