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2021-12-05 13:51:46   •   ID: 2284

A Bifacial MSA from Ma'rib (Yemen)

Figure 1
In this blog, bifacial artifacts from Central Yemen have already been presented - See: 1659 as well as the hypothesis of a connection between the South Arabian Peninsula and East Africa during MIS5.

In the meantime, research has continued, particularly in Oman and on a smaller scale in civil war-stricken Yemen.

Figure 1-3 shows a bifacial 5,6 cm long endscraper of Middle Paleolithic / MSA origin. Such artifacts are rare in the Context of the MSA, nevertheless they are known from several East African Sites, for example from the Middle Pleistocene Site of Gadometta, Site ETH-72-1, dated by isotopic techniques to >279 k.a. (Wendorf and Schild 1974; page 222).

Figure 4 and 5 display a flat small biface, 6 cm long, also a typical artifact for the East African and Arabian MSA. Both artifacts were found at -Shabua-Ma'rib. Ma'rib was the capital of the Empire of Sheba in ancient times from the 8th century B.C. It is located about 100 km east of Sanaa in Yemen. Today's Ma'rib has about 21000 inhabitants and is the capital of Ma'rib governorate.

Until recently, the Arabian Peninsula was a terra incognita for Paleolithic Archeology. Since the turn of the millennium, several International interdisciplinary teams have changed the situation fundamentally, by geomorphological guided prospection of habitable zones, especially focused on ancient freshwater Lakes and Valleys in Arabia during the Pleistocene.

Figure 2
This leap in scientific evaluation was made possible by political modernization tendencies in the Arab countries (especially in Oman) and by the interest in "Out-of-Africa 3 events" via the "Southern Route".

The Middle Paleolithic / MSA- Areas: It was noted very early that in the Arabian Peninsula there are a number of Middle Paleolithic / MSA surface concentrations characterized by different modes of Levallois technology. In addition, there are a number of sites with a significant bifacial component.

The background for current research is therefore to define lithic signatures that could evidence early connections to the Nile Valley, the coasts of the Red Sea at the Horn of Africa and the Levant.

In short, Nubian-technology and Bifacial tools are suggested to represent a connection to North Africa, while Levallois techniques, similar to the so called Tabun B/C Ensembles could point to connections to the Levant.

The fate of the early human communities, their extinction, especially during MIS4, their persistence in preferable habitats even during dry episodes, and possibly further ingressions to Arabia from different geographically sources will be one of the main challenge of future research.

Several regions, especially in the South of the Arabian Peninsula have been extensively surveyed during the last years:

  • The Governorate of Dhofar in Oman, which is geological partitioned into six distinct ecological zones:1) coastal plain, 2) seaward slopes and southern draining wadis, 3) summit grasslands, 4) northern mountain slopes and rain shadow, 5) plateau and canyon lands, and 6) southern Rub Al-Khali basin (Rose et al. 2018; 2019).

    Figure 3
    The Nejd plateau was one focus of research and is characterized by deep canyons once flowed with perennial rivers at several Pleistocene times. Two OSL age estimates from the open-air site of Aybut Al Auwal in the Nejd plateau characterized by the Nubian Levallois technology gave a burial age 106k.a. (first Half of MIS5; Rose et al. 2011).

  • The Jebel Faya in the limestone hill near Al Madam in the Emirate of Sharjah, the UAE, located between the shoreline of the Gulf and Al Hajar Mountains (Armitage et al., 2011). Jebel Faya ensemble C has been dated to about 127–123 k.a. and therefore to early MIS5. The lithic assemblage is characterized by a bifacial component and the production of flakes using centripetal Levallois reduction (Pretzke 2005).

  • The Jubbah Basin in central Saudi Arabia, which lies on a paleolake that measures at least 20 km by 4 km. Large quantities of MSA lithic scatters in a paleolake environment have been detected, but absolute dates are still missing.

    Although completely surrounded by the vast Nefud Desert, Jubbah is today still known for its abundant agriculture and plentiful water supply. Recently a Middle Paleolithic scatter, without characteristic signatures was reported from the Nefud desert dated to 75k.a.

  • The Wadi Surdud in western Yemen, especially important by the Shi'bat Dihya 1 site dated to 55 k.a. Interestingly this site is a local lithic industry characterized by blades, pointed blades, pointed flakes and Levallois-like flakes with long unmodified cutting edges, made from locally available rhyolite (Bertrand 2012).

    Despite of the Lebvallois-like character of the mostly unretouched blanks, they were produced by a "semi-tournant" and a „frontal“ debitage strategy (Delagnes, 2000), while Levallois strategies were also present, but rarely used.

    It is of interest, that contemporaneous, similar EUP industries, regarding the end products, but using different chaine operatoires, were present at the Nil-Valley (Taramsa) and in the Negev (Boker Tachtit).

    This site could be the result of a local evolution of lithic technology, indepently from the source regions of the first settlement during MIS5.
  • - see also 1722

  • The Al- Kharj sites in Central Saudi Arabia revealed a total of 29 Middle / MSA Paleolithic surface scatters at the margins of Pleistocene lakes, focused on the Nubian Technology (Crassardet and Hilbert 2013). This is the first area in Central Saudia Arabia, that has been techno-typologically evaluated, unfortunately the sites are non-dated at the moment

  • Figure 4
    Connections between Arabia and East Africa?: Archaeological investigations over the past 20 years indicate that an essential initial phase of human expansion in Arabia took place during MIS 5. This is supported by ensembles, found at Jebel Faya in the United Arab Emirates, in the Dhofar region in Oman and in the Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia.

    These sites may date to the beginning of MIS 5 (Jebel Faya ensemble C and the numerous sites of the "Nubian Complex" from the Dhofar region), as well as to MIS 5a (sites in the Jubbah Basin in the Nefud Desert). Both periods coincide with humid phases that favored the dispersal of fauna and humans .

    It has to be mentioned, that presently the dating of Nubian-Complex surface scatters at Dhofar is only supported by similar Industries at the Horn of Africa and the OSL age estimates from the open-air site of Aybut Al Auwal, which may place place this Complex at Dhofar at c 106 k.a. years ago, as described earlier.

    Assemblages mentioned above have been so far assigned to:

    - the Middle Stone Age (MSA)at Jebel Faya Assemblage C and at Bir Khasfa, a surface scatter of stone artifacts on the Nejd Plateau in Oman. Most of the artefacts found here were bifacial foliates and preforms. Bifacial preforms are also present at Jabal Ardif, 100 km southwest of Bir Khasfa.

    - the Nubian complex, especially in the Dhofar region.

    - or a poorly defined "Arabian Middle Paleolithic" in the Jubbah basin.

    The assemblages from the Dhofar region, as well as those from Jebel Faya (C), appear to represent links between Arabia and Africa during MIS 5 (120 and 80 k.a.)

    Figure 5
    Further incursions of populations into Arabia were probably temporally limited, mainly during wet-episodes as might be expected in a marginal and generally arid region.

    Anyhow even during arid times such as MIS4, people may have survived due to local favourable environmental conditions and may have developed innovative lithic inventories in many different ways. The sites at Wadi Surdud may be only one example for this process.

    Several sites from Jebel Faya were dated to MIS3 during an early MIS 3 wet phase between ca. 60 and 50 k.a. With the End of MIS3 human occupation may have come to an end with no evidence for human presence in the Arabian Peninsula, between 38 and 11 k.a. (Bretzke et al. 2013).

    Back to the two artifacts I introduced in this post. They have similarities to MSA inventories in the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa and may date to the early MIS5-wave of immigration via the "Southern Route" to what is now Yemen.

    Provenance: W.Hernus Collection (GER)