85,000-year-old human footprints discovered in north-western Tabuk region
Latest fossil find reaffirms theory that the region was at the crossroads of the Great Migration route
RIYADH, May 13 (CIC) – Saudi Arabia’s north-western Tabuk region, which has yielded many archaeological marvels in recent years, once again became the focus of attention for historians and archaeologists when Prince Sultan bin Salman, President of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), announced that 85,000 years old human footprints had been recently discovered there. He made the announcement during his recent visit to the National Museum of Tokyo, which is hosting the “Roads of Arabia – Saudi Archaeological Masterpieces through the Ages” exhibition.
The footprints of many adult humans carved deep in rocks were discovered on the bank of an ancient lakebed in the Nafud desert that scientists say was once a lush and damp area teeming with life. The footprints led away from the lake in different directions. Researchers say that the discovery showed that hunter-gatherers came to the area at that time, and that they might also have fished in the lake.
“This is a wonderful and very rare discovery that shows the spread of man outside Africa and his arrival in the Arabian Peninsula within other human migrations,” Prince Sultan said.
“These important discoveries highlight the historical status of the Kingdom and its cultural depth and it being the cradle of the beginnings of human civilisations,” he added.
The discovery was made by a team of researchers from the Saudi Geological Survey, SCTH, King Saud University, Max Planck Foundation for Human History, Oxford University, Cambridge University, Australia National and the University of New South Wales in Australia.
Prince Sultan said that the footprints dated back to the same period as the fossil of an adult human finger, found in 2016 in Tabuk region’s Tayma province, about 150 kilometres north-west of Al-Ula and its location has evidence of major civilisations dating more than 4,000 years, including the Lihyan and the Nabataean kingdoms.
The fossil, believed to be the oldest evidence of Homo Sapiens found outside Africa and the Levant, was presented by Michael Petraglia, of the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute. The discovery points to a new understanding of how humans came out of Africa and moved to different parts of the world. Petraglia said that the discovery indicated that the ancient people probably left Africa through Sinai.
These discoveries were made possible because of a programme called “Green Arabia,” in which SCTH is collaborating with Oxford University to trace historical climate changes on the Arabian Peninsula. The project found evidence of hundreds of rivers, lakes and forests that used to cover the land that is now a desert.
The project has also led to discoveries of animal and mammal fossils in Saudi deserts, including a 300,000-year-old mammoth tusk in the Nafud desert. An elephant’s carpal bone, located five meters from the tusk, was also discovered in the same sand layer at the excavation site.