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These are the first direct signs of human presence found on the Arabian peninsula.
A team of researchers managed to reconstruct in detail how, around 120,000 years ago, a group of Homo sapiens stopped near a shallow lake, in what is now known as northern Saudi Arabia, to probably drink water or follow the herds of camels, elephants or wild donkeys that frequented those marshes. Their tracks dried up and fossilized, leaving scientists with rare evidence of the presence of humans on the Arabian Peninsula.
The scene is described in a study published by the journal Science Advances this Thursday, from those 120,000-year-old human footprints found in the Nefud desert.
Archaeologist Michael Petraglia, leader of the research team at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, noted that "they are the first genuine human footprints in Arabia," a region long considered a migration route for the ancients representatives of our species, from Africa to the Middle East and Eurasia.
Previously, human exploration of the Arabian Peninsula was only evidenced by stone tools found in the area. Until now, the only evidence that the region was populated by humans and not just some other hominin had been an 88,000-year-old human finger bone.
Scientists identified tens of thousands of ancient freshwater reservoirs, including one in the Nefud Desert, calledAlathar, which in Arabic means 'the trail'. There they detected hundreds of footprints in its bed, mostly left by camels, elephants, giant buffalo or wild asses, and discovered that seven of them belonged to humans.
When comparing the size and shape of those footprints with those of Neanderthals, the researchers argued that they were left rather by representatives of Homo sapiens, since in all probability they must have belonged to taller people, with longer feet and lower body mass. .
They also determined that the sediments above and below the footprints are between 121,000 and 112,000 years old, respectively, times when there were no longer Neanderthals in the Middle East and, therefore, one more indication in favor of the hypothesis that they were Homo sapiens. explained study co-author Mathew Stewart.
Speaking to AFP, Stewart asserted that his work shows that "inland routes that follow lakes and rivers they may have been particularly important for humans to spread out of Africa. '
Petraglia, for his part, pointed out to the same agency that “the presence of large animals, such as elephants and hippos, together with open grasslands and large water reserves, may have made northern Arabiaa particularly attractive place for humans moving between Africa and Eurasia. '
However, researchers also cannot completely rule out that Neanderthals may have left those traces, argues paleoanthropologist Marta Mirazón Lahr, from the University of Cambridge, although she also personally favors Homo sapiens as the most likely candidate.